“These kids were born on 9/11, they entered elementary during a stock market crash, they have gone through the longest war and they are graduating high school during a pandemic,” Fort Hood spouse Chandee Ulch said about the graduating class of 2020. “If that doesn’t say ‘resilient,’ I don’t know what does.”
Chandee, producer of the Fort Hood-based home improvement show, “Moving with the Military,” has partnered with Fort Hood Family Housing to make graduating seniors feel special as they prepare to graduate high school – by providing free photoshoots outside their home.
“We are incredibly proud of the community for coming together to volunteer their time and talent to help celebrate our graduating seniors here at Fort Hood Family Housing. During these challenging times, it is important that we continue to find meaningful ways to connect with our residents,” Staci Burton, assistant marketing manager of communities for Lendlease, said. “We are honored to have partnered with ‘Moving with the Military’ on this special project to help bring joy to our residents and celebrate this significant milestone in their lives.”
Chandee is the wife of Sgt. 1st Class William Ulch, 163rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th MI Brigade, who showed his wife a picture he seen online of a parent who celebrated her senior by decorating the front porch of their home. As someone who “always go big,” she decided to surprise her graduate by sending her away for the day. After the big reveal, they had a photoshoot of their daughter Shina in front of the display.
“I felt so loved,” 18-year-old Shina said. “I really felt like I was important.”
The Killeen High School senior, who plans to head to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in the fall, realized other seniors might also like to be celebrated this way. Chandee and Shina put some feelers out on social media and received a positive response, so they decided to go for it. After another positive response from Fort Hood Family Housing, Chandee and Shina began coordinating dates and times for people throughout the community to participate. She said parents decorate the porches or garages, then they go to their house, photograph the senior in front of the display and then provide them with at least three digital photos.
She said many parents ask if it has to be a surprise. Even though she surprised her daughter, she said decorating the porch could be a good bonding experience between parent and child.
“I knew my mom was up to something. She had asked me for some of my things,” Ellison High School graduate McKenzie Tysor, daughter of retired Wounded Warrior Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Tysor and Tammy Tysor, said. “I was surprised by the end result. At first, I thought my mom was being ‘extra,’ but I was excited for my photo session – personal and professional.”
When it came down to it, Chandee said before the seniors leave home and begin their lives, she wanted to show them that there was an adult who really cared about them and valued them.
Within a few days after putting the information out, she had more than 300 requests from the local area and has since been enlisting volunteer photographers to take on an area so they can photograph as many senior porches as possible.
Using their own time and gas, Chandee said Shina joins her for the photoshoots and has taken on the responsibility of coordinating everything. She is happy to provide people an opportunity to bond with their graduate, but is also happy to have these moments with her own graduate.
“We have bonded in a different way because she’s out here with me,” Chandee said. “She’s been my secretary, my navigator, she’s done all the mapping. She does all the texting and gets a hold of people ahead of time.”
Free graduate photo shoots are taking place on post throughout the week. Call Fort Hood Family Housing at 254-285-2312 for any available openings.
When she looks back on this time in the future, McKenzie said she hopes to remember that storms do not last forever. The graduating class of 2020 were born overcomers and that will not change.
“Nothing will be impossible to achieve because we survived two world-changing catastrophes,” McKenzie said. “We did not only survive – we thrived.”