Fort McCoy News Nov. 10, 2017

Army Community Service

helps military Families year-round

BY AIMEE MALONE
Public Affairs Staff

November is Month of the Military Family, but Army Community Service (ACS) staff members do their best for Families year-round.

ACS offers a number of programs that focus on helping military Families no matter where they are in their lives, including Army Family Team Building, the Exceptional Family Member Program, and the Family Advocacy Program. Throughout the year, ACS offers workshops, play groups, and trips to promote Family bonding and togetherness.

"What we're really all about is getting Families to do those activities together so they can strengthen those Family bonds," ACS Volunteer Corps Coordinator Lorie Retzlaff said.

Fort McCoy Family members play during Army Community Service’s (ACS) “Connect the Tots” Play Group on Oct. 24 in the ACS Family Building.
Fort McCoy Family members play during Army Community Service's
(ACS) "Connect the Tots" Play Group on Oct. 24 in the ACS Family
Building.
Photo by Aimee Malone

Family workshops are usually conducted in the ACS Family Building, which has a play area for children. Exceptional Family Member Program Manager Carmen Ortiz, also with ACS, said the building provides a safe, relaxed, and creative environment for Families. Young children can participate in workshops or activities with their parents, wander off to the play area when they become restless, then return to help with the project again.

It's always interesting to see what the Families come up with during the workshops, Ortiz said.

"You give them the materials. Someone might copy exactly the example, but … someone has used the same materials and done something totally different," she said.

For the 2017 Month of the Military Family, ACS coordinated photo sessions for military Families in September. The photos are available for Families to use during the Family Calendar Workshops in November and to take home afterward.

"We know a lot of military Families have not had a complete Family photo in years," Ortiz said.

One Family put their own twist on a "complete" Family photo because their Soldier was away. "They brought the dog. They had the kids. Mom was there, and they had a picture of Dad in the photo," Olson said.

ACS trips are designed to give Families a taste of surrounding areas they might not otherwise experience, Family Advocacy Program Manager Carrie Olson said.

Fort McCoy Family members create cards during the Valentine's Day Card Workshop Jan. 21 at the Army Community Service (ACS) Family Building. The workshop is one of many activities ACS offers to promote Family bonding and resiliency.
Fort McCoy Family members create cards during the Valentine's Day Card
Workshop Jan. 21 at the Army Community Service (ACS) Family Building.
The workshop is one of many activities ACS offers to promote Family
bonding and resiliency.
Contributed photo

In 2017, ACS staff members took Families to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison and to downtown Madison, where Families could see the capitol, visit the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and Madison Children's Museum, and check out the farmers market.

Ortiz said ACS' overall goal is to help find and provide services and activities that are scarcer in smaller communities like the ones surrounding Fort McCoy. That includes not only Family-strengthening trips and activities but practical services, too, like helping a spouse find a new job or helping the Family find new doctors or services for special-needs Family members.

"If we don't have the answer, we will get it. We will figure it out," Olson said.

ACS also provides educational materials for Families based on monthly themes. Books, pamphlets, and activity packets are some examples, and the materials are usually tied to an awareness observance. For November, ACS will provide a game to encourage Families to spend time together.

"When the service member or Family member stops into ACS, they can pick up a game for their Family," Retzlaff said. "Of course, we're also going to encourage them to check out any other services that we have."

ACS staff members are involved in the surrounding communities, as well. Setting up at school or community events is another way to reach Families who may not stop into the office, especially those who live off post, Olson said.

Fort McCoy Family members prepare for a trip to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wis.
Fort McCoy Family members prepare for a trip to the
Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wis. The trip was organized
by Army Community Service.
Contributed photo

They also meet with school counselors, health professionals, and others to let them know what services ACS has available so they can refer military Families back to ACS if needed.

ACS staff members work with each other as well as community members to make sure Families are taken care of.

"It's like different pieces of the puzzle coming together to provide everything a military Family needs," Ortiz said.

"Whatever that Family needs, each one of us will do whatever it takes to make sure the Family gets what they need," Olson said.

Hosting the fun activities and workshops also helps staff members build a rapport with military Families and spouses, Olson said.

Families are more likely to come to ACS with their problems before they get too difficult to handle if they know and trust the staff members already.

"We can put that prevention piece in there, as well, because they know who to turn to," Olson said. "What is the Family Advocacy Program? Oh, that's not Family Advocacy; that's Carrie."

While ACS takes care of military Families year-round, staff members said it's important to recognize their hardships and strengths during special events like November's Month of the Military Family.

"I think it's important to recognize military Families for the sacrifices they endure. ... We may have a Family (whose) child has been in a different school every year for four years straight," Ortiz said. "That's endurance. That's resilience."

And ACS does its best to help Families build that endurance and resilience, Ortiz said.

For more information about ACS at Fort McCoy, call 608-388-3505.