JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2015

Since 9/11, thousands of Massachusetts residents have enlisted in the military, answering the call to serve. The conflicts of the past ten years and repeated deployments have affected military veterans and families alike. The stress of their time away and of rejoining their families has proved challenging.

JF&CS is reaching out to families of these veterans and active-duty military through an innovative new peer-to-peer program called Shoulder to Shoulder. Using the model created by the award-winning JF&CS Lauren and Mark Rubin Visiting Moms® program, Shoulder to Shoulder pairs trained volunteers with military families for weekly, one-hour visits in the home.

"The program will help to bridge the civilian-military gap that exists in our community, while addressing the unique challenges faced by veterans and their families," said Jamie Grossman, founder of Shoulder to Shoulder, JF&CS Board member, and an active volunteer, advisor, and ambassador for the program. "This is a vulnerable community, suffering the invisible wounds of war."

During deployment, the parent at home is left to manage household responsibilities, often while also continuing to work outside the home. Their coping skills are impressive, but the stress takes a toll. Challenges can emerge then or later when the service member returns. Combat stress (also called post-traumatic stress) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are the signature "invisible wounds" of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been estimated that these invisible wounds affect one in three veterans.

Many military families in New England are part of the National Guard and Reserve. As a result, military families here do not have a large base community, and that can be isolating. In Massachusetts, military children may be the only child in their school who has a parent or another family member who is serving.

"There's an absence of military culture in this region. We don't see military families coming and going as visibly and many feel alone in their experiences," said Jamie. "We want them to know that we care and provide access to the many different services available at JF&CS."

Shoulder to Shoulder supports families of those who have served since 9/11, regardless of their time of service or discharge status, from all branches of service. Key to the program are the military-connected volunteers who are trained by Shoulder to Shoulder staff to help identify strengths and improve the family's resiliency by providing support and encouragement. They bring their unique perspective as members of the military community who understand the pressures of military life. It is the only volunteer program in Massachusetts that provides extended free care to military families in the home.

"We provide empathetic, non-judgmental support for families that we already know are strong," said Jamie. "Our goal is to help improve coping strategies and optimism.

In addition, two veterans have joined the JF&CS staff to manage the day-to-day operations, training, and outreach for the program. Stacie Fredriksson, Program Manager, served fourteen years in the Air Force on active duty before transferring to the Air Force Reserves where she has served the last eight years. Amy Leah Bonneau, Clinical Program Manager and Outreach Coordinator, is a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard and served in the Vermont Army National Guard for seven years, during which time she deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan. Following her deployment she received her MSW from Boston University.

"Resiliency is a trait you can learn and build on over time," said Stacie. "This is the only long-term home visiting program with a goal of strengthening families and giving them the tools to be resilient. We're not giving advice, we're teaching skills and connecting families to resources."

"I'm very proud of our agency for putting resources behind this program. What we are doing is innovative," added Jamie. "Military families have served us, now it's our turn to serve them."

Interesting in volunteering? Contact Lauren Schleicher, Manager of Volunteer Services at volunteers@jfcsboston.org or 781-693-5576.