The gym had been transformed; it was filled with tables decorated in beautiful autumn colors. A large screen dominated one corner, already broadcasting Armed Forces Network’s Monday Night Football game. The buffet table gleamed with silver chafing dishes, piled high with traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Leaders dressed in their finest stood at the ready, serving utensils in hand. The band swung into “City of New Orleans” and the room began to fill with single service members and newly arrived families for our “Taste of Home” Thanksgiving dinner. The evening was a resounding success thanks to our volunteer team.
Volunteering is how I connect with a new community. Once the boxes are unpacked at a new duty station it can be challenging to know what to do next. Volunteering has always been my next step; it not only helps me connect with issues I care about in a new community, but it introduces me to others who care about them, too. It has given me the flexibility to put my family first in this often tumultuous lifestyle, while still finding a way to contribute to my community.
After arriving in Belgium in July 2014, I reached out to the National Military Family Association (NMFA) to see if there was a way I could volunteer while overseas at a NATO base. The answer was yes (yay!), giving me license to get involved in my new community. I spent time talking to organizations across the installation, meeting lots of new people and gaining insight to the challenges of this new duty station. I was able to share resources and programs with families who might not otherwise be aware of them. And I was able to connect with others who were committed to supporting military families.
Over the course of this assignment, I saw that while Europe has much to offer, families especially missed home around the holidays. Those times of year were challenging for our young single service members, many of whom lived in barracks. Newly arriving families, living in temporary lodging, were also faced with trying to create a holiday environment at a brand new duty station, often while living out of a suitcase.
Last fall, we pulled a team together, sponsored by the senior chaplain, and began reaching out to every organization we could think of – BOSS, JROTC, MWR, AFN, Boy Scouts, and even our local thrift shop. Every single organization we invited eagerly joined in to make this event happen. These volunteers brought their talents to the task at hand and made that Thanksgiving one to remember.
Volunteering is the single best way I have found to connect with my community and make a difference. And the volunteer support I have received from NMFA has been key to my success. The Volunteer and Community Outreach Managers are encouraging. They empower their Volunteers and ensure that we understand NMFA’s mission and focus. NMFA actively seeks our Volunteer input from the field and uses it to better advocate for military families. If you’re looking for a way to connect with your community and support your peers, volunteering with NMFA is one of the best ways I know to do both. Come join us!
Posted by Kelly Henry, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer