Ray Stark, (President & Co-Founder of The Hugs Project) was a Navy Fire Controlman stationed onboard the USS Independence in the middle of the Persian Gulf when Mt Zion, a little country church in El Reno, Oklahoma adopted him. Now, he shares that same great feeling with American Troops around the world. He says, “These men and women will come home one day and begin to volunteer to make the world a better place because of how good the support from strangers made them feel”. He should know. Having “been there, done that”, no one is more supportive of our Troops than this man. He works tirelessly to make sure they know they are NOT forgotten.
Karen Stark (Executive Director) remembers Vietnam Veterans coming home and being made to feel shame. She remembers three of her graduating class didn’t come home at all. Determined that today’s combat troops wouldn’t be treated in the same manner, she and her husband, Ray began The Hugs Project in May 2004. Her goal is to make sure each of America’s finest knows they are loved and respected. She received the Presidential Service Award from President George W. Bush in 2008. Karen has a BA from Northeastern Oklahoma University, She owned Executive Personnel in the 1980s but her all-time favorite job was driving taxis for a Japanese cab company. She took Sailors and Marines where they were going on Yokosuka Navy base. She loves making crafts and doing acrylic paintings to help fund the project. All her sales are donated back to the project. Her least favorite job is that of THP Webmaster. <grin>
Julie Citro (Vice President) - Julie lives in Oklahoma City. She has volunteered with The Hugs Project for over 14 years working events, fundraising, making bracelets, packing boxes, and gathering care package items at events and conventions she attends. Julie is a Database Administrator during the day and a firearms instructor in the evenings. She enjoys sewing, reading, and riding her Harley. On her last big birthday, she parachuted out of an airplane from 14,000 feet. That's officially higher than her Airborne husband has ever jumped. Julie has a son who is a United States Marine so she has a special heart for our Military and all who serve.
Sherri Woodham, (Treasurer) Sherri is a retired special education teacher, psychometrist, and business owner of Edmond's first Kumon Learning Center. Sherri and her husband Charles (retired Army Lt. Colonel) have two children and four grandchildren whose activities keep Sherri busy. She serves in several volunteer capacities at her church, Henderson Hills Baptist. Shortly after The Hugs Project was formed, Sherri visited to gain ideas for the HHBC Military Ministry. She was so impressed with the heart and dedication of Karen, Ray, and the other THP volunteers, that she began to help with packing, donation collections, the recycling program, and other areas, including helping write grants to help fund our efforts. Sherri received her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Central Oklahoma. She is an avid OSU Cowboys and Thunder fan.
Martha Duerkson (Secretary) – has worked with The Hugs Project for more than 15 years. She brought little bears sewed by the OKC chapter of the American Sewing Guild to the Hugs office and started working packing boxes....she never left! Her family has always been very patriotic, thankful for, and admired the Military. Martha believes packing care packages for the Troops is a great way to give back to those who are protecting our country. She has a B.S. degree from Kansas State University. She has lived in Oklahoma for 36 years and is involved with several classic car clubs, ASG and Computer Club of OKC.
Don Walkup – The only one of us who gets two pictures.
As you can see from the picture….Don keeps us laughing. He’s been a member of Hugs for more years than any of us wish he was. But, we let him stay because it keeps him out of the bars and out of wife Jeanette’s hair and she begged us, so he’s still here.
Okay, seriously now. Don is a guy who can always be counted on for ANYthing including serving on the governing board of Hugs. He cares deeply about every Veteran. He does ALL he does (and it’s a LOT) with a smile that never leaves his face (unless you serve him anything with coconut in it!) If Don were to ever quit, most of us would leave with him. Other than that there’s not much to be said about our favorite guy who once served in the Oklahoma National Guard a long, looooooong time ago.
Karie Skipper – Member at Large. Karie has volunteered for The Hugs Project since 2020. She started coming to Hugs after seeing how much a previous coworker enjoyed volunteering for us. Karie retired from the federal government after many years in the aviation field. During most of her employment, she worked with many pilots who previously served in the Military. She developed a greater understanding and admiration of their sacrifice to our country during that time. She enjoys packing care packages for the Troops as a way of acknowledging and showing our appreciation for serving our country. She has two children and loves spending time with her two granddaughters. Karie has lived in Oklahoma her entire life.
Lori Griffin – (Assistant Treasurer). Our newest recruit. Like the rest of us, Lori works without salary because like all of us, she woke up in freedom this morning and she knows it’s courtesy of the US Military. She is grateful. Lori is a certified CPA and brings many skills and a lot of knowledge to our board and we’re so grateful she accepted the position. More info about her and a picture will be put up shortly.
Miss Lily – (Our littlest volunteer/mascot). Lily is the service dog of founders Ray and Karen Stark. She is our official greeter at the Hugs front door. Lily goes to events and models the dog dresses our volunteers lovingly make and accept donations for. She is the official seat warmer whenever anyone exits their chair (hey, she’s not dumb, she knows they will pick her up and love on her when they come back). Here’s another picture of Lily. This time she’s modeling her Navy uniform to remind everyone how proud she is of her Daddy who served. Lily was honored to have her picture taken in a WWII motorcycle with a WWII Veteran during Veterans Week 2022 in Branson, MO and she recently had a story written about her in the Branson Globe. 3 pictures – Beat that, Don Walkup!!