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Veterans Day honor: Help for guardsman’s family draws the Patriot Award for Richards

Nov 12, 2018

Shani Richards (left) and Cara Schon (right)

It's all about people for Shani Richards, whether it be as University of the Pacific's assistant director of Learning and Development, pastor at downtown Stockton's Open Door House of Prayer Ministry or at home engaging with her blended family.

"I value people, and I care about people. ... I don't think I'm the most generous, loving person, necessarily," Richards said. "I think I've been very influenced by scripture."

Now the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) wants to recognize Richards for the way she supports and connects with people. During today's Pacific Veterans Day Celebration at noon in the DeRosa University Center Ballroom, Richards will receive the Patriot Award from the DOD Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program.

Cara Schon nominated Richards for the award recognizing her help as she prepared for her husband's deployment.

"During these 11 months and several months leading up to the deployment, Shani demonstrated the leadership of a caring and supportive supervisor," wrote Schon in nominating Richards for helping her family while her husband Jon, a sergeant first class in the California National Guard, was deployed from October 2017 to September 2018. "She consistently asked how we were doing and allowed flexibility to take care of family matters. She even attended the B Company departure ceremony, showing her genuine support. Her actions allowed me as the spouse to carry on as normally as possible. It also gave my husband peace of mind that I was supported at work. ... I wanted to thank Shani in a meaningful way."

Richards said she was humbled.

"I am thrilled and full of joy that my actions impacted her in that way," Richards said. "I'm full of joy that she reaped a benefit from who I am. That's incredibly beautiful to me. My joy is because of her experience."

Richards knew that Cara Schon got word more than a year before her husband would deploy and that it would likely cause emotional wear and tear on the family. To support and lighten Schon's worries, Richards worked to cross-train the rest of the "small, but mighty" team in the office so that Schon could take time away from work to help her husband and family deal with the challenges of deployment.

"I'm really big on knowing about the emotional burdens that we carry as individuals employed here. ... I wanted her to understand, she wasn't doing the wrong thing if she had to take time away to take care of family," Richards said.

Richards sensitivity to people's emotional needs may stem from her sensitivity to their spiritual needs, as well. She's the pastor at Open Door House of Prayer Ministry, where her mother and grandmother were pastors. Richards had no plans to follow in her family's footsteps, but after joining her mother, Amelia Adams, in community work and then ministry, she "felt a tug in her heart."

As a spiritual leader, she's counseled and seen her share of service members being deployed and returning home. "It hits close to home when people come back and they're not the same as they were," she said.

Although Richards will be a featured honoree when she receives her award on Monday, she is just as thankful to share the spotlight with the Schon family in honoring them.

"I'm excited for the celebration of our veterans and the fact that they have an opportunity to give to people who have given to them. ... I don't feel like it's me getting this award. I feel it's this collaborative thing, this family, this unit, this team. I feel it was all of us."

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