Category Archives: Volunteers

“Go To Your Happy Place,” and Other PCS Lessons Learned Towing a Trailer

PCS season may be winding down for the majority of military families, with schools starting back, and pools getting their last straggling visitors. But for other military families, they’re still on the move! This summer, my family was one of the many leaving one community and arriving in another. We have moved a number of times, but I always learn something when we move.

This time, I learned about driving a vehicle with an attached trailer. My husband handles a majority of the move’s logistics, and this meant he was organizing our partially procured move. One day while I was really busy with a work deadline, a new recipe and maybe giving the dog a bath (not exactly all at the same time…but almost) he asked if I could drive our SUV and pull a trailer behind it during our move.

“Sure!” I said. I was obviously focused on something else. No problem! I didn’t give this another thought until my husband returned from the UHaul place with the trailer. The trailer was larger than I thought it would be. A lot larger. Uh oh!

Image: MovingInsider.com

What do you do when faced with situations like this? You ask another military spouse who has trailer-pulling experience! My good friend told me she towed a sail boat up the East Coast during one of their moves…in the middle of a hurricane! I thought she would certainly have some words of wisdom and comfort that would apply to my current situation.

“If something goes wrong on the road, just go to a happy place and don’t hit the brakes!” she shared.

I was really hoping for more substantial advice, but I honestly needed the laugh more than the actual advice. Thank goodness for good friends. She also told me I could absolutely do this.

The next morning, the trailer was attached to my vehicle and off we went. We were a two vehicle, two trailer caravan of two people and one slightly worried puppy. The dog was with me and may have sensed my “go to a happy place plan.” He is pretty smart.

Along the way I noticed something: I was not alone.

We stopped at several hotels and there were other military families all along our route. There were other military spouses with vehicles packed with children and suitcases and several of them were also driving a vehicle with a trailer. I wasn’t alone! This made me laugh. I looked around and thought, “If they can do this, I can too!

I may have been extremely careful, not ever putting myself in a position to need to go in reverse, but overall, we had a great trip. I was driving fairly intensely with no music in the vehicle, no driving too fast and I had a death grip on the steering wheel…but we arrived safely!

During our move I learned I can drive a vehicle and tow a trailer, if I need to. I absolutely learned I need to listen a bit more intently when we are dividing our move related tasks! I also learned to have a lot more respect for anyone who drives a really large vehicle for a living!

What have you learned during your recent PCS?

Ann HPosted by Ann Hamilton, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager

Join the NMFA Volunteer Corps and Volunteer Virtually!

The National Military Family Association is fortunate to have Volunteers in communities worldwide. NMFA Volunteers participate in a variety of projects locally, and virtually, and their work has a lasting impact. And not all volunteering has to be in-person. Here are some of the ways our Volunteers are working to improve the lives of military families around the globe, in person and virtually:

6-27-virtual-volunteers-nmfa

  • Conference Calls. NMFA Volunteers participate in all kinds of conference calls; from new Volunteer conference calls, to team conference calls, and even calls with our Government Relations department. Our conference calls help educate, connect, and further our advocacy efforts on behalf of military families.
  • Branching Out. Our Volunteers have added their voice and writing talents to this blog! They share stories about moving, saving money, PCSing with pets, and inspire other military families to share their stories and be informed.
  • Operation Purple® Camps. This year, nine Volunteers wrote letters to Senators and members of Congress inviting them to visit one of our Operation Purple Camps, and meet some of our youngest heroes! We also have Volunteers packing their backpacks and lacing up their hiking boots to visit an Operation Purple Camp for the day. Each of our Operation Purple Camp visitors visit a camp to observe our curriculum, meet with the camp staff, interact with the campers, and make sure campers are having a true Operation Purple Camp experience. They will probably taste s’mores, too!
  • Local Events. NMFA Volunteers are the face, voice, eyes, and ears of NMFA in their local communities! They are busy hosting information tables all over the globe, attending town hall meetings, Yellow Ribbon Events, and participating in patient advisory councils at local Military Treatment Facilities and clinics. Why is this local outreach so important? Because it helps military families better understand who NMFA is, and it helps us understand what military families are experiencing on a real-life, day-to-day level.
  • Advocacy. Our Volunteers are the heart of our advocacy efforts. Because of the information we receive from our Volunteers and our social media networks, we’ve been able to defeat the proposed ER Misuse fee, and tell Congress how important the Commissary benefit is to our nation’s military families. Currently, we are asking Congress to be thoughtful about TRICARE reforms.
  • Scholarships. This year, our NMFA Volunteers worked tirelessly supporting our Joanne H. Patton Military Spouse Scholarship program. Eighty Volunteers judged 4,726 scholarships! These Volunteers donated an equivalent of $65,000 to military spouse education!

So what do all of these projects have in common? Each of these projects happen in local communities, and in some cases the comfort of your own home. Our scholarship judging project is a virtual project. Volunteers choose the events and meetings they attend, and conference calls happen at differing times to accommodate multiple time zones and schedules. Do any of these opportunities sound like something you are interested in?

Do you want to help your own military family and the military families in your community? Then join our Volunteer Corps

Ann HPosted by Ann Hamilton, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager

Selling Yourself: Volunteer Experience on Your Resume Has Value

It’s PCS season for many military families, and you know what that means: it’s a great time to think about your resume.

Huh? What?

Yes, your resume. You may be starting over, once again, or you may decide to reinvent yourself. Maybe you’re jumping back into the workforce after a break. Whatever your situation, it’s a great time to jazz up your resume–especially figuring out the best way to leverage your volunteer experience.

6-13-volunteers-cake

Military spouses volunteer A LOT. And those skills and experiences are part of your professional growth. Whether managing volunteers, building a house for a deserving family, or organizing the picnics and potlucks at your spouse’s unit, it all adds to your skill set.

And, it should be part of your resume.

So, are you saying the day I spent cleaning up trash in my community is the skill set of my next career path?

It could be. But not unless it’s important to you. As a volunteer director and hiring manager, I’ve seen a lot of resumes. When it comes to resume writing, your volunteerism takes a back seat, falls to the end of the page–and that’s if it makes it on your resume at all. As a military spouse, our resumes are a reflection of who we are, where we’ve been, and how much we make a difference. Not just for a community, but for an employer. Don’t sell yourself short by not including that time you volunteered in the community.

Because I have a secret for you: ALL experience matters.

So, this summer when you’re at the pool, take some time to think about your volunteer skills and experience. Jot them down. The next resume you send out shouldn’t be all about showing them the money. Show them who you are and why you’re the best candidate.

6-13-pin-volunteer-military-spouse

For help in creating resume bullets from your volunteer experience, check out these military spouse resume resources:

What ideas or resources would you give to a military spouse updating their resume?

christinaPosted by Christina L. Jumper, Volunteer & Community Outreach Director

Virtual Volunteering at NMFA: How does it work?

When people ask what I do for the National Military Family Association, as the Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager, it’s always hard for me to explain! I manage our Volunteers in the West Region…but I do it all virtually. Most people are used to the traditional type of volunteering–the “hands on” kind where volunteers show up, receive an assignment, finish it, and go home. There are really not a lot of ‘virtual volunteers’ out there.

One of the most important things the NMFA Volunteers do is support our advocacy mission. NMFA began as an organization that spoke up for military families, and this remains our focus today. Our Volunteers collect information about the issues and concerns military families have in their local communities, and provide that knowledge to our headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. As we gather this local information from around the world, we can speak for military families on a national level.

5-23-military-spouse-volunteer-computer

Another important task NMFA Volunteers carry out is telling military families about our organization! They share our valuable information and resources and talk about the wonderful things NMFA can offer military families–like scholarships for military spouses, and unique camp experiences through our Operation Purple® Program. We advocate for military families, but we also empower military families with knowledge and confidence to advocate for themselves. NMFA strives to provide information and programs to help military families improve their lives.

There is absolutely no other way NMFA would be able to speak about the experiences and perspectives of military families of the seven uniformed services serving all over the globe without our strong and capable Volunteer Corps. And the most effective way for military families to learn about us is from an NMFA Volunteer who is active in the community where they live! Our Volunteers are NMFA’s face, and our voice in local military communities everywhere.

You might be wondering how I can manage a Volunteer Corps on multiple continents…all from my computer. Other volunteer managers I’ve met along the way had the same sentiment, “It must be hard to not have the daily ‘hands-on’ volunteer management experience! ”

But I disagree! Our Volunteer Corps is unique and extremely valuable to the overall mission of the National Military Family Association. I get to play a part in NMFA’s success by communicating with our Volunteers all over the world. I get to hear what’s happening in the lives of military families, and I hear about all of the wonderful things that individual states, cities, and other non-profit organizations are doing locally to celebrate and support military families.

Most importantly, I get to connect and work with amazingly smart, dedicated and talented military spouses who, like me, love the military life and want to make it better!

Do you have a desire to make your military community better? Join our Volunteer Corps and give a voice to your local installation. Together we’re stronger®!

liz-lPosted by Liz Larsen, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager, West Region

Thanks, but No Thanks: 5 Reasons Military Spouses Are Saying “No” to Volunteering

Think fast: what would you say to someone from your spouse’s unit asking you to volunteer with the Family Readiness Group (FRG)?

There was a time, being a young, wide-eyed, new military spouse, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. Having moved away from my hometown, volunteering in the military community seemed like a great way to meet other spouses, find new friends, and be plugged in to my husband’s world.

And it was, for a while. But then it got old.

5-14-military-spouses-friends-event

I served as the Ombudsman for one of my husband’s commands and hoped that, besides being a resource for the command families, I’d be a person others might gravitate to for friendship. Unfortunately, the friends didn’t come with the title. In fact, it felt like people RAN from me.

Once a new Ombudsman took my place, I knew I was done for a while.

I felt unsupported as a volunteer, but then felt guilty for not volunteering. Turns out, I’m not alone. Spouses are “over it” for a lot of reasons.

  1. Burn out.

“Volunteer positions aren’t always the best organized or most effectively communicated,” Kristen, a military spouse blogger told me. “I sometimes felt unappreciated or even taken advantage of. Plus it was hard to fit [volunteering] into my already-busy schedule.”

  1. Red tape.

Other spouses echoed Kristen’s thoughts about effective communication. Especially when procedures on installations tightened up and changed.

“I stopped volunteering on-post mainly because of all the red tape,” Karen, another military spouse, explained. “Oh my gosh, the regulations for fundraising, events, and other things were incredibly stifling to an FRG.”

  1. Childcare costs.

Heather, an Air Force Spouse, has always been a Key Spouse, but says she struggled to stay involved when her husband got new orders with frequent, unpredictable TDY’s.

“With four children, and limited access to affordable childcare,” she shared, “it was difficult to volunteer. As much as I wanted to serve, I couldn’t pay for a sitter to go work for free.”

  1. Family time.

But even with volunteer options that work around childcare, spouses, like Meg, say the commitment many volunteer positions require is a deal breaker.

“Most volunteer opportunities require a minimum number of hours–usually during the work day; And when it’s not during working hours, the time commitment expectation deeply cuts into the already precious time with my spouse and child,” Meg explained. “At the end of the day, the joy and satisfaction of volunteering for a good cause are outweighed by time and money.”

  1. Lack of support.

“I was Key Spouse for a year at our last base, and it was just awful,” said Kathryn, another Air Force spouse. “The squadron didn’t seem to care and just wanted to have someone [volunteer] so they could say they did. It was like pulling teeth to get information.”

Having an experience similar to Kathryn’s, I started wondering why commands even want these groups and volunteers at all when they don’t have the time to commit to helping them thrive.

5-14-milspouses-greeting-each-other

For service members to be 100% mission-focused, they need their home-life to be copacetic; kids are good, spouse is strong and supportive, life is stable. But military homes can’t find stability without support from the military.

That’s why Family Readiness Groups, Ombudsmans, and Key Spouses were created, right? But what if no one is supporting those volunteers?

In a recent blog post, military spouse, Rebecca, wrote about taking a break from volunteering, “I don’t think the military is doing a very good job of taking care of volunteers and families these days…So now, it’s up to me to take care of my family.”

It’s been 15 years of war for today’s military families, and there’s no end in sight. Many families are war-weary, leaving military service for the stability of civilian life, and licking the wounds from a battle-hardened, selfless job.

How will military families thrive without a strong, supportive, and understanding network of volunteers?

This community needs someone to say, “Me, too,” and “I’ve got your back,” and “Here’s some advice.” And it’s the military spouse volunteers who’ve been those fountains of knowledge and strength. We have to turn this train around. We do have each other’s backs, don’t we? At least in theory?

So, the question I want to know: would you volunteer with your unit’s FRG? Is it worth the headache? I’ll say yes if you will.

Have you taken a break from volunteering in the military community? What would it take for you to go back?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

The Military Community Needs You: Here’s How You Can Help!

To kick off National Volunteer Appreciation Week, I posed the question: is volunteerism in our military communities dying? Shocking question, isn’t it? It might be, but I think the military community should pay attention to the answer.

4-13 Military Comm Horizontal

Military spouses are reporting a slight decline in the time they spend volunteering within their own military communities. Instead, they say they are volunteering more in their civilian communities.

Think about that for a minute.

I think volunteering in either community is greatly appreciated. Volunteerism can be a family activity, a day of service, or simply a way to give back to others however you can. Getting involved in a cause builds strength in a community, breaks down barriers, and allows love and compassion to thrive.

But why are military spouses not giving back to their own as much as they used to? What’s so important about volunteering within the military community?

Because no one should walk through military life alone. Sharing experiences, struggles, and accomplishments are what bring people closer together. Extending help by sharing resources, providing information on programs, or lending a helping hand is all part of what makes us stronger.

4-13 Military Comm PINTEREST

I encourage you to look for ways to volunteer in your military community. Volunteering doesn’t have to be time consuming. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a few ideas.

  • Reach out to the installation Volunteer Program Manager. This person usually has the low down on volunteer opportunities on the installation.
  • Get involved with your family support group. It doesn’t have to be a huge task, there are simple ways to volunteer that will be appreciated.
  • Try Child and Youth Services. If your kids play sports, help out the team or the coach.
  • Check into military faith-based organizations. There are many ways to volunteer. Choose what works for you!

Not living on or near an installation?

  • Find a local organization that helps support military families or veterans.
  • Find out what your local church or religious organization is doing to support military families and get involved. Or, maybe start a program and get others involved!
  • Network with your military family friends on social media sites. Find out where they’re volunteering and tag along.

Of course, you already know how awesome our NMFA Volunteer Corps is, but if you want want to get some other ideas of how you can help the military community, check out our list of incredible ways to get involved or to support our nation’s families.

What other ways can you volunteer in your military community? Let us know!

christinaPosted by Christina Jumper, Volunteer & Community Outreach Director

Is Volunteerism Dying in our Military Community?

I know, this is not the blog you expect to kick off National Volunteer Appreciation Week, but, stay with me for a minute.

It is a known fact that military spouses are the cornerstone of volunteerism in military communities. They volunteer with their family readiness groups, at the family service centers, at the installation clinic/hospital, installation faith-based organizations, with child and youth sports teams, and still find time to volunteer in their civilian communities.

4-11 Volunteerism Horizontal Graphic

This week, military installations around the world will hold up a big check that calculates the value of a volunteer’s time based on the number of volunteer hours reported. And trust me, that check will have a BIG dollar number on it.

But is volunteerism dying in our military communities?

In NMFA’s 2016 military spouse scholarship application, we asked 3,876 spouses about their volunteerism. 58% said they volunteer in some way. And they spend A LOT of time volunteering. 20% volunteer 51-100 hours and 38% volunteer 11-50 hours, annually.

Of those, 12% volunteer ONLY in their military community while 30% volunteer in both civilian and military communities.

But here’s something interesting, and perhaps even alarming: 68% of military spouses spend more time volunteering in their civilian communities. 

Why would that be? Maybe it’s a lack of time due to the operational tempo and multiple deployments. Maybe it’s a lack of certain types of volunteer opportunities. Or maybe military spouses are just tired.  For the past four years, our survey has shown this downward trend in volunteerism within military communities.

4-11 Volunteerism PINTEREST

“Most volunteering hours require a minimum time. That time is usually during working hours,” Meg, a military spouse shared. “When it is not during working hours, the time commitment expectation is such that it deeply cuts into the already precious time with my spouse and child. At the end of the day, the cost in time and money often doesn’t outweigh the personal joy and satisfaction of volunteering for a good cause.”

For the past four years, we have surveyed this group of military spouses about their volunteerism. Year to year not much has changed, but our survey alludes to a decrease in volunteerism in military communities.

Whatever the reason, military communities need to pay attention. If our military communities don’t start asking questions, they’ll lose one of their best assets: military spouses and their gift of time, energy, and talent they provide.

Do you volunteer in your military community? Why or why not?

christinaPosted by Christina Jumper, Volunteer & Community Outreach Director