In September 2011 Amachi was awarded a $3M three-year grant from the Office of Justice and Juvenile Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to provide mentoring services to at-risk youth, including children from military families. Military youth eligible to participate in the Amachi Expansion for Military and Civilian Families (AEMCF) are those between the ages of 9 and 17 who have a parent on active duty, a military reservist, in the National Guard, or a parent who died while serving in the military. The overall goal of the AEMCF project is to find a mentor for 1500 at-risk youth, of which 390 of the youth will be from military families. Of the 1500 volunteers matched with these children, 150 will be current military personnel or veterans.
The mentoring field currently knows very little about how to tailor services to children of military families. Over the past eighteen months Amachi has reached into unchartered territory and gained valuable insight into serving military families, insight that will help address this knowledge gap and foster stronger programs for these youth. While there are Federal and private sector programs that address reintegration for returning service members and support services for family, there are few comprehensive initiatives that combine family support and reintegration services with an opportunity to meet a child’s need for positive adult role models who can support their socio-emotional development and keep them on-track academically and behaviorally. At the end of the grant Amachi will produce a report on the promising practices for serving military youth gleamed from working with this population for three years.
According to the White House publication, “Strengthening our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment”, at least 700,000 children have been affected by separation from a parent due to deployments, which are happening at an unprecedented frequency and duration. This can be especially stressful for these children as they cope with knowing their loved one is constantly in danger and experience the trauma of friends in their community losing their parents during deployment. Children of all ages in military families have significantly higher levels of emotional and academic difficulty than children of non-military families and may find a lack of understanding of military families in their communities, according to “View from the Homefront: The Experiences of Youth and Spouses from Military Families, by Rand Corporation”. Through intense training and technical assistance, Amachi and its T&TA partner Dare Mighty Things, have assisted the five AEMCF subgrantees, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester (NY), Lone Star Big Brothers Big Sisters (TX), Philadelphia Leadership Foundation (PA), Pima Prevention Partnership (AZ), and Urban Ventures (MN), as they attempt to overcome the challenges of finding military families and serving the youth.
As the subgrantees approach the midway point in the AEMCF project, they have begun figuring out what works and what doesn’t. The greatest success the subgrantees have seen is in recruiting current military personnel and veterans as mentors. Relationships with military organizations in the local area have been successful in finding these volunteers.
However, locating military youth has been a challenge, just as finding the children of incarcerated parents was when targeted mentoring for this population began 13 years ago. Broad military youth recruitment strategies that the agencies have found important are making the right connections, respecting the hierarchy, framing the message properly about how the service is positively impacting the community, and participating in the proper events at the proper venues. For instance, activities that initially were assumed would be very productive in finding children from military families have not yielded the hoped for results. Some of the activities that have produced little or no child referrals include:
- Attending community events and presentations geared towards military families, and handing out flyers and speaking to people.
- Meeting with military organizations and non-profit agencies in the community to discuss AEMCF and possible collaboration.
- Conducting scheduled presentations targeting families to recruit youth, held at and sanctioned by the Air Force Base.
- Working with USAA (a banking organization that caters to those in the military) and presenting at their local hub.
- Speaking and leaving materials with Army training station, Army and Marine Guard stations.
- Connecting with Air force, Marine, Navy recruitment officers to assist in getting information out to non-base families.
- Developing an active group of current military mentors to assist in recruiting families and volunteers.
- Connecting with Yellow Ribbon events in the local area and attending the events with new materials
- Connecting with military spouse groups.
Alternatively, subgrantees have been surprised by some of the methods that have garnered applications from military youth. Some of the productive recruitment elements thus far have been:
- Having two AmeriCorps Volunteers who have a military background (one is a veteran and one is the child of a military parent) has been invaluable in reaching target population because they are very familiar with the culture and hierarchy.
- Leveraging access to family support resources at West Point to identify with parents who are deployed (Westpoint has incorporated a site component into community based programing to appeal to cadets and military families.).
- Working with recruiters to modify materials to make them welcoming to all military families in all areas, being careful of wording, messaging and not using specific uniformed photos.
- Presenting at a local church.
- Working with public schools to identify military families (The success of this strategy seems to be based on geographic location. Some subgrantees are referred youth regularly while others site that the administrators in their public schools have no way to identify military youth).
Other activities that AEMCF subgrantees have begun and believe will bring promising military youth recruitment results are:
- Attending twice monthly “Right Start” briefings for Enlisted who are new to the Air Force Base, and having a table present during the break to discuss the AEMCF opportunity.
- Participating in the once-quarterly outreach at the Exchange during the busiest hours and having a table set up to discuss the AEMCF opportunity.
- Connecting to the Army Strong Support Center.
- Hiring a new Military Recruitment Specialist with established connections to the base that will focus solely on military recruitment efforts and partnerships.
Despite the challenges faced, AEMCF is dedicated to serving military youth and will continue to persistently pursue various recruitment strategies until these youth, who reports have shown would greatly benefit from a mentor in their lives, are matched.