By Janet Shamlian, NBC News correspondent
Editor's note: Janet Shamlian's report runs on tonight's broadcast.
Days like this are the most painful. While classmates throw a football in the backyard with dad, the children of our service people at war are separated from a parent this Thanksgiving weekend. There might be a phone call or visit by web cam, but there's no holiday from the stress these kids live with every day.. knowing mommy or daddy is in harms' way.
An estimated 115,000 American children have a parent serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Beyond the struggles of separation, many of these families also face financial challenges. Those little extras like piano lessons or soccer that provide diversion can be out of reach at a time when kids are most needy.
Tonight on our Making a Difference segment, you'll meet a mom who recognized this need. With the help of friends and neighbors, she launched a program that's helped thousands of boys and girls across the country. "Our Military Kids" provides grants to school-age children of deployed National Guard and reservists in chunks of no more than $500. It's not a lot of cash, but it is enough to pay for something special: whether it's dance lessons, horseback riding or tae kwon do. The money can also be used for tutoring and counseling.
For Dawn Bocanegra and her three daughters, a little has gone a long way. When I spent the day with them in Manassas, Virginia, Dawn explained that without the grants, her girls would have had to do without Janie's guitar lessons, Sadie's painting class and Gracie's tutoring.. activities that offered structure at a time everyone felt a little lost without Daddy. "It's really helped us survive the deployment," Bocanegra told me.
The Bocanegra's just received a gift thousands of military families dream of -- Jorge Bocanegra returned from Iraq last week. He sat down to Thanksgiving dinner with his wife and daughters, grateful for his blessings.. hopeful for his friends still waiting to come home.