Using Senior Corps Volunteers to Support Deployed Military and Their Families

Abstract: 

Across the country, service men and women from all branches of the military have been called away from home to active duty in difficult and often dangerous situations. In their absence, many of the families left behind have special support needs. Deployment can also mean that communities have temporarily lost some of the volunteers who support critical community services. Angela Roberts of the Corporation for National and Community Service shared these ideas on the NSSCTalk e-mail discussion list, suggesting projects that Senior Corps volunteers might incorporate in their programs to serve military members and their families.

Issue:

Military call-ups and deployment overseas create gaps in local community services that can be filled with Senior Corps volunteers. Also, military families at home during a service deployment can have special needs.

Action:

According to Angela Roberts of CNCS, Senior Corps volunteers have a role to play on the home front to support military families. These include:

Writing letters to U.S. service men and women

  • When a local National Guard Unit was called into active duty, one project's advisory council suggested that volunteers write letters to them and other service men and women. After discussions about the letter-writing project with service-learning colleagues, new ideas were formulated that can be easily implemented. For example, in addition to writing letters directly to service members, RSVP and Foster Grandparent Program volunteers serving in schools can help students write letters. Not only will students learn letter-writing skills but they can also learn about geography, and develop compassion, empathy, and citizenship skills. Volunteers can coordinate the effort to reduce the burden on teachers by assisting students in obtaining addresses, using maps to locate correspondence destinations, and helping students draft their messages.
  • Local RSVP or FGP projects and schools can be creative in the way they pursue the letter-writing initiative. For instance, some schools might limit the activity to a particular classroom while others might undertake a school-wide project of "adopting" a military unit. Letter writing could also be supplemented by collecting and donating toiletries and other needed items to the American Red Cross.

"Rosie the Riveter" activities

  • Many of the men and women who have been deployed away from home were performing volunteer roles in their communities and have left temporary vacancies. Senior volunteers can be the modern-day Rosie the Riveters by filling in for absent volunteers, similar to the World War II phenomenon that saw many women employed for the first time in traditionally male occupations while the men were fighting overseas. The World War II experience helped open up new occupations to women, and perhaps deployment of troops can open up new opportunities for seniors. This may be an opportunity for Senior Corps programs to reach out to organizations that have traditionally not made use of older volunteers.

Military family support services

When a key family member is deployed for an indeterminate time, it may create special short-term needs for the family members at home. The following websites offer many ideas and resources related to military family support services that Senior Corps projects may wish to undertake:

  • Military OneSource is a free service of the Department of Defense that connects troops and their families to resources. It offers comprehensive information on every aspect of military life including deployment, reunion, relationships, grief, spouse employment and education, parenting and child care, and many other support services.
  • Military Kids Connect is an online community of military children (ages 6-17) that provides access to age-appropriate resources that support children from pre-deployment through a parent's or caregiver's return.
  • Blue Star Families is a nonprofit created by real military families who are committed to supporting one another through the unique challenges of military service. They ask the larger civilian population to help as well, through partnerships and volunteering.

Senior volunteer resources, used wisely, can provide a wealth of talent, energy, wisdom, and spirit to military families and communities in need. Projects such as sending letters and care packages overseas do a lot for the morale of service members stationed there.

For more information:

Related Resources: 

Senior Corps

Special Report on Military Family Support from Defense.gov

Citations: 

Roberts, A. (2003, February 10). Re: Support to service men and women and their families [Electronic mailing list message]. Retrieved from http://lists.etr.org/read/archive?id=39060


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