Mentor opportunity turns into lifelong friendship

Staff Sgt. Kelsey Shaw, NCO in charge of aircraft parts store with the 6th Logistics Readiness
Squadron, holds Kaylee Smith, a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) mentee,
during a TAPS event in St. Petersburg, Fla. Shaw has mentored Kaylee and her family for two 
years. (Courtesy Photo)

Staff Sgt. Kelsey Shaw, NCO in charge of aircraft parts store with the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron, holds Kaylee Smith, a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) mentee, during a TAPS event in St. Petersburg, Fla. Shaw has mentored Kaylee and her family for two years. (Courtesy Photo)

Staff Sgt. Kelsey Shaw, NCO in charge of aircraft parts store with the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron, pauses for a photo with siblings, Kaylee Smith and Maddie Wike, a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) mentee, during a TAPS event in St. Petersburg, Fla. Shaw has mentored Kaylee and Maddie for two years through TAPS. (Courtesy Photo)

Staff Sgt. Kelsey Shaw, NCO in charge of aircraft parts store with the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron, pauses for a photo with siblings, Kaylee Smith and Maddie Wike, a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) mentee, during a TAPS event in St. Petersburg, Fla. Shaw has mentored Kaylee and Maddie for two years through TAPS. (Courtesy Photo)

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

“Kelsey has been a true Godsend to my family,” said Megan Sanders, mother of Kaylee Smith. “She has supported my children during numerous Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors events and in their everyday lives.”

 

Staff Sgt. Kelsey Shaw, NCO in charge of aircraft parts store with the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron, volunteered for “TAPS National Military Suicide Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp” in October 2014, and has since built a lasting relationship with the Sanders family.

 

 

TAPS has provided more than 7,300 suicide survivors care and support, and has seen an almost six percent increase in 2016 in suicide survivors seeking support. TAPS Suicide Survivor Seminar is a program specific to families that have lost a military member to suicide and provides service members an opportunity to mentor a child who has lost a loved one. 

 

 

“Throughout the weekend, children are paired with a mentor, often a current U.S. service member, to comfort them and laugh with them, but also to remind them that they are still very much a part of the military family and are not forgotten,” said a spokesman from TAPS.

 

Shaw was initially hesitant to volunteer, however, she did so thanks to the encouragement of a friend.

 

“At first, I wanted nothing to do with the program because I thought the whole weekend would be filled with sadness,” said Shaw. “It’s heartbreaking when a child tells you how they lost a loved one to suicide.”

 

Walking into that weekend, she didn’t know what to expect, other than it would be an emotional rollercoaster.

 

Shaw anxiously awaited for her mentee to walk into the room, but was excited to finally meet Kaylee. Little did she know, her mentee wanted nothing to do with her, and didn’t want to leave her mother’s side.

 

“My initial meeting with Kaylee was rough, and we had to go outside because she was crying and screaming for her mother for the first couple hours of the morning,” said Shaw.

 

With time, Kaylee understood what was going on, and from then on she was glued to Shaw’s side. That first day of TAPS changed the lives of both the mentee and the mentor.

 

For two years, now, Shaw has attended TAPS events with Kaylee and the Sanders family, and continues to grow and build their relationship outside of the program as well.

 

“Kelsey has supported my children during numerous TAPS events and in their everyday lives via phone and Skype dates,” said Megan. “She has a very close bond with my girls and is like an older sibling—always watching out for them.”

 

Since their first meeting, Shaw and Kaylee have grown together, and hope to continue to build their relationship. Nearly two years later, they now face the obstacle of saying goodbye and trying to plan their next visit.

 

“Kelsey has shown my girls how to have confidence within themselves,” said Megan. “They are laughing and sharing more since meeting her.”


TAPS has provided more than 7,300 suicide survivors care and support, and has seen an almost six percent increase in 2016 in suicide survivors seeking support.