JF&CS News December 2015

JF&CS Shoulder to Shoulder is a family-centered, peer-to-peer program supporting families faced with the unique challenges that accompany military service. Through private conversations that provide support and encouragement, volunteers help identify a family's strengths and improve their resiliency. Trained by Shoulder to Shoulder staff, volunteers are veterans, spouses, parents, and other military-connected community members who understand the pressures and hardships of military family life. This program is free of charge, completely confidential, and available to Active Duty, National Guard, Reserve, and Veteran service members, regardless of income, economic circumstances, religion, age, or discharge status.

The Challenges of Military Life
Shared by Amy Bonneau

In Massachusetts, most military service members are Guard and Reservists who also have full-time civilian jobs in their communities. We serve away from home one weekend per month, as well as for two weeks of annual training in the summer. Although one weekend per month might not sound like a lot of time, it translates into 12 consecutive "work days" per month, when most civilians have weekends in which to catch up on errands, rest, and spend quality time with friends and family. The two weeks of annual training also usually eats up vacation time, so we lose another opportunity to rest, recharge, and spend time with family or significant others. It can be even more difficult for single soldiers who have no one to pick up the slack when they're away. They might find themselves asking, "Who can dog sit for a weekend?"

Military members may also face challenges in being unemployed or under-employed, especially those who have just returned from active duty. In addition, they face hurdles in translating their military skill sets into civilian employment situations.

Military Life for Families
Shared by Stacie Fredriksson

When a military member deploys, families face separations lasting anywhere from three to 18 months, with 12 months being the average deployment. The remaining spouse is left in the position of a single parent, with everything falling on his or her shoulders. Family routines are uprooted. Bills, household chores, meals, transportation, and more can overburden a spouse who may also be working full-time. Children respond differently to both the remaining parent and the military parent. If the military parent is in harm's way, then the stress on the family is amplified. When the remaining parent is struggling and has no support mechanisms, the children will almost certainly show more signs of stress.

Returning home from deployment can also bring new challenges. For the military member, returning to a new routine that doesn't include you can be an adjustment in itself and quite stressful. It's a challenge to bring the deployed parent back into the loop. It takes time to normalize the relationships between spouses and children. Injuries, both visible and invisible, such as PTSD or traumatic brain injury, add yet another layer of extreme stress.

How Shoulder to Shoulder was Born
Shared by Jamie Grossman

Early on in life, I learned about the value of reaching out into the community to offer support to individuals and families in need of financial, spiritual, or emotional guidance. Fifteen years ago, when I was asked to join the JF&CS Board of Directors, I jumped at the chance.

When I met my partner, Bob Kinder, five years ago, I had never known anyone who had served in the military. Bob served in the military for 24 years, including several deployments in Afghanistan. As we got to know each other, I learned about life as a military family and the toll it can take on relationships within the family unit. With Bob, I became involved with some local military support programs. The more exposure I had to the military community, the more I thought about JF&CS and the services we provide.

After speaking with local Veterans' Service Officers; directors at Home Base, a joint enterprise between Massachusetts General Hospital and the Boston Red Sox Foundation; and generals at Hanscom Air Force Base, I worked with JF&CS to create Shoulder to Shoulder, a program that would serve military families based on the successful JF&CS Lauren and Mark Rubin Visiting Moms® concept.

Now the program has two part-time employees (both service members themselves) and 11 trained volunteers, positioned to go out into the community and help families. Volunteers also benefit from the program by developing relationships with each other over their own military life experiences. It's a win-win situation for both the families and the volunteers.