USA — Institute Fosters Community Support of Military

BETHESDA, Md. — An Indi­ana-based orga­ni­za­tion is work­ing to build com­mu­ni­ty sup­port of ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies through­out the state in the hope of serv­ing as a mod­el for the rest of the nation.
Shel­ley Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth, direc­tor of the Mil­i­tary Fam­i­ly Research Insti­tute and a fam­i­ly stud­ies pro­fes­sor at Pur­due Uni­ver­si­ty, yes­ter­day dis­cussed the institute’s efforts on behalf of mil­i­tary fam­i­lies — active-duty, Guard, Reserve and vet­er­an — dur­ing the 3rd Annu­al Trau­ma Spec­trum con­fer­ence here.

The NMFI is a research and out­reach orga­ni­za­tion based at Pur­due in West Lafayette, Ind. It is sup­port­ed by Lil­ly Endow­ment Inc., the Defense Depart­ment and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions.

Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth called her talk Life in the Weeds she said, because she’s “way out­side the [Capi­tol] Belt­way” in a state with­out a major mil­i­tary insti­tu­tion, and in a place where peo­ple don’t often asso­ciate with a strong mil­i­tary pres­ence.

Yet, the state con­tains many Guard and Reserve mem­bers, as well as some small­er active-duty com­po­nents, she said. The state is home to 23,674 active and reserve com­po­nent mem­bers, most­ly Army Nation­al Guard, with 1,800 deployed and 3,600 cued up to deploy in Jan­u­ary 2012, she said.

The insti­tute has been work­ing to boost aware­ness of and sup­port for these mil­i­tary mem­bers and their fam­i­lies with some suc­cess, Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth said.

She high­light­ed an effort called Our Heroes’ Tree, a com­mu­ni­ty out­reach pro­gram housed with­in libraries. Under the pro­gram, par­tic­i­pants cre­ate a hand­made orna­ment hon­or­ing a ser­vice­mem­ber, past or present, and take it to a par­tic­i­pat­ing library dur­ing the month of Octo­ber to be placed on a tree.

“We offer libraries free resources in exchange for doing pro­grams lead­ing up to Vet­er­ans Day,” she explained. The tree offers peo­ple a way to hon­or loved ones or those they admire, and also brings peo­ple togeth­er, such as school chil­dren and vet­er­ans.

It also offers a way for libraries to con­tribute, she said.

The pro­gram now is offered by near­ly every coun­ty in the state, Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth said. Addi­tion­al­ly, the Navy hosts the pro­gram world­wide in its libraries, she added.

“It’s a nice way to get on the radar screen of the com­mu­ni­ty,” she said.

While a great resource, Our Heroes’ Tree is just the tip of the ice­berg for mak­ing a true impact, Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth said. Along with pro­gram resources, libraries also are pro­vid­ed with a doc­u­ment called How to Help Mil­i­tary Fam­i­lies in response to a com­mon com­mu­ni­ty con­cern. The one-page guides, also avail­able on the institute’s web­site, give sug­ges­tions for help­ing neigh­bors, friends and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers who have a mil­i­tary tie, she said. Each is cus­tomized for a dif­fer­ent group, includ­ing child­care providers, faith-based orga­ni­za­tions, teach­ers, fam­i­ly and friends, employ­ers, med­ical pro­fes­sion­als and neigh­bors.

Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth stressed the need to fun­nel infor­ma­tion about the mil­i­tary to com­mu­ni­ties. It’s impor­tant, for exam­ple, to inform teach­ers when they have a mil­i­tary child in their class­room.

“In your class­room, when you’re talk­ing about how you feel about the war, you might want to keep in mind that there might be a kid in your class­room whose par­ent is there,” she said. “It’s just help­ing peo­ple be aware that they are in con­tact with mil­i­tary fam­i­lies. They just may not know it.”

In an effort to fos­ter this infor­ma­tion flow, the insti­tute part­nered with the Cen­ter for Deploy­ment Psy­chol­o­gy to pro­vide train­ing ses­sions for large groups of providers such as health care providers, mar­riage and fam­i­ly ther­a­pists and men­tal health providers, Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth said. They’ve also asked to present a mil­i­tary track at con­fer­ences and sem­i­nars, and have reached out to ear­ly child­hood pro­fes­sion­als, social work­ers, school coun­selors and teach­ers. Addi­tion­al­ly, the insti­tute has shipped 1,300 train­ing kits to pri­ma­ry care physi­cians with­in the state, she said.

Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth also high­light­ed an effort to reach out to and sup­port mil­i­tary chil­dren with­in the com­mu­ni­ty. The insti­tute has devel­oped a rein­te­gra­tion pro­gram called Pass­port Toward Suc­cess, offered to mil­i­tary chil­dren 60-days post deploy­ment through the Defense Department’s Yel­low Rib­bon Rein­te­gra­tion Pro­gram. The one-day pro­gram helps to build resilien­cy among mil­i­tary chil­dren, she said.

The pro­gram is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant in a state with­out an active-duty instal­la­tion, she not­ed.

“These mil­i­tary kids get almost no time with oth­er mil­i­tary kids, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing rein­te­gra­tion,” she said. “I think it’s very impor­tant for them to have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to be with oth­er kids who have been through what they have been through.”

The insti­tute has cre­at­ed a mod­el for the use of com­mu­ni­ty vol­un­teers at Pass­port events, Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth said, and now has 100 vol­un­teers from five states who want to work with mil­i­tary chil­dren. “It’s been very grat­i­fy­ing to see,” she said.

Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth also acknowl­edged some road­blocks to com­mu­ni­ty-based sup­port efforts, includ­ing the vari­abil­i­ty of com­mu­ni­ties, even across one state.

Evans­ville, Ind., for exam­ple, is 76 miles away from a Vet­er­an Affairs med­ical cen­ter, and the clos­est child psy­chol­o­gist is about 100 miles away, she said. Yet, there’s a fair­ly large mil­i­tary unit there with fam­i­lies who have spe­cif­ic needs, but lim­it­ed resources.

Colum­bus, Ind., also is lack­ing infra­struc­ture, yet it is the home to Camp Atter­bury and soon will be the home to a small active-duty unit. More than 50,000 troops have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan after train­ing there, Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth said, yet there is rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle child care and no after-hours care.

Com­mu­ni­ties need infra­struc­ture -– such as jobs, health care, vet­er­an and fam­i­ly pro­grams, and aware­ness with­in schools and non­prof­it groups –- in order to offer mil­i­tary fam­i­lies the sup­port they need, Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth said.“All com­mu­ni­ties are dif­fer­ent and all are con­fronting issues in dif­fer­ent ways,” she said. “Our goal is to help them suc­ceed.”

It will take an ongo­ing effort to bring com­mu­ni­ties on board for the long-term, Mac­Der­mid-Wadsworth said.

“If you’re real­ly going to make change,” she said, “you have to get the com­mu­ni­ty mobi­lized, want­i­ng to do this work, have to feel they own it … and there has to be a way to sus­tain it.

“The thing we strug­gle with the most is, how do you shift from aware­ness to mobi­liza­tion?” she added. “That’s where we’re at now.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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