BUFORD - Barbara Swenson never imagined that her nickname would become her destiny.
Swenson, known as Bebop, is a former banker who has dedicated her retirement to helping troops overseas. The Buford resident founded a nonprofit organization, Troop Bebop USA, that helps seven units overseas by sending them international phone cards, care packages and Christmas gifts.
Swenson said her father, a now-deceased World War II veteran, gave her the nickname, because "out of 10 children, I was the only one to bop around and listen to his jazz."
As a child, Swenson used to go into her father's bedroom and listen to his war stories. Knowing what her father went through helped her develop the utmost respect for those serving this county, she said.
"I can't let these guys and gals go down," she said.
Swenson said she adopted her first soldier after she accidentally came across a Web site while researching the brain. That one adoption grew into several units, and Swenson started the nonprofit to make sure she could continue to help them.
"It's just gratifying," she said. "My passion is this now. ... I want to make sure they are taken care of because they are protecting our freedom. My heart goes out to them."
Although two volunteers help out with Troop Bebop, the organization is pretty much a one-woman show, Swenson said. She uses the back of her sport utility vehicle to wrap gifts she sends to the soldiers, and she includes a card with each gift to let the troops know who it's from.
"It's amazing how this has just blossomed for the soldiers," she said.
Recently, Troop Bebop and Walgreens have partnered together. Swenson set up boxes in 27 Atlanta area stores, including some in Gwinnett, to collect donations to send overseas. She said anything can be sent as a gift - from boot laces and socks to food items to microfiber blankets and DVDs.
The response from Walgreens customers has been great, Swenson said. But she said she feels the community could do more.
"I'm not giving up until these soldiers have gifts overseas," she said. "I want to reignite the patriotism in this community."
Swenson said the boxes for gifts for soldiers will remain at Walgreens until Dec. 27 or 28.
For more information about Swenson's organization, visit www.troopbebopusa.com.