In this post, Jim Seevers, Senior Vice President of Dare Mighty Things shares his insights on mentoring the children of military families. Jim has twenty-eight years of experience as an Air Force officer, including service as the Manpower and Personnel Director for U.S. forces throughout the Pacific region. Since his retirement from the Air Force, Jim has deepened his work with military families, assisting in the development of several federal and nonprofit mentoring initiatives. His 36 years of experience in this area uniquely qualifies him to comment on this topic. ~ Dave Van Patten
By Jim Seevers
With a national focus and increased interest in helping military families, several mentoring programs have focused initiatives to match children of Service members. This blog is intended to highlight characteristics of military families, share recent and relevant experience, and provide insight that will enable mentoring programs to be better prepared to serve this important population.
Since September 11, 2001, we have seen a heightened awareness of the potential dangers to our nation and our way of life. Since that time we have also seen an increased reliance on our nation’s military and the sacrifices of military families. While military members voluntarily place themselves in harm’s way for our freedoms and for the advancement of freedom around the world, their families also endure increased risks and challenges of extended family separations, uncertain futures, and the challenges of reintegration. There are approximately 1.9 million children in military families and more than 700,000 have experienced the deployment of one or more parents since 2001.
It is important to recognize that while all military members are volunteers, not all military experiences are the same. The length and frequency of deployments vary, just as the nature of those deployments can range from combat to response to natural disasters. Members of the “active duty” force (full-time military members) are faced with moving every few years, and most military children will transfer schools and leave childhood friends 6 or more times during their school career. At the same time, most live on or near military installations with a wide array of family and youth services, networks, and wide-spread understanding of their sacrifices.
On the other hand, approximately 40% of the total military force consists of the National Guard and other Reserve Components. These citizen soldiers are members of the community, and when not called to serve with their active duty counterparts, they are the teachers, plumbers, doctors, sales clerks, and others you meet on the street. They are dispersed throughout the country rather than near an installation and frequently have to travel hundreds of miles for military support services. Many have found that, while this population is more difficult to reach, they are also in greater need of community-based understanding, support, and services.
In response to the needs of military families, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), with funding from DoD, awarded a total of $21 million in federal grants to support mentoring programs for military children in 2011. In announcing the grants at the OJJDP National Conference in October, 2011, Dr. Jill Biden cited the value of mentoring: “As a teacher and a military mom and grandmother, I have seen first-hand what a big difference a great mentor can make in the lives of our nation’s military children.”
One of the grant awardees was the Amachi Mentoring Program (www.amachimentoring.org) under the leadership of Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode, Sr. We at Dare Mighty Things have been privileged to work with Dr. Goode and his selected mentoring programs from Arizona, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas in this initiative. With Amachi’s solid foundation and record of success in mobilizing people of faith to mentor children of promise, the initiative started with a strong base, and while there are similarities in risk factors with other populations, it was necessary to begin the project with an understanding of the military family environment.
Amachi scheduled an early kick-off with representatives from all the programs, very few of which had experience in working with the military. Based on our extensive experience with military families, we were able to provide training that ranged from basic military terminology, structures, deployment cycles, and family support services. We then built on that foundation with more complex issues such as the intersection of deployment challenges with phases of youth development and reintegration family dynamics. This information has been reinforced with distance learning and technical assistance.
Mentoring programs have had to understand these, and many other, distinguishing characteristics. They have also had to recognize the tight bonds that form among Service members and their families—bonds that can present boundaries for “outside” service providers that are even more difficult to bridge with a lack of cultural understanding, empathy, and a tailored approach. It takes time to establish productive relationships, and it has proven easier for military and veteran mentors to engage these children as mentees. The general lessons learned are not significantly different from venturing into other cultural environments—know the population, understand the risk factors, establish a network of trust among families and other service providers, and tailor programs to meet unique needs. The first step is frequently the hardest—venturing into an unknown arena—but the children of our Service men and women who sacrifice so much deserve the effort.