You Can Empower Military Families on Giving Tuesday

Recovering from the hustle and bustle of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday?

Today is Giving Tuesday, a time to take a break from all the buying and shift our efforts by giving to causes that matter. As you pause to think about what’s important this holiday season, please consider giving to our nation’s military families. We are 15 years into America’s longest war. Think about how the families who sacrifice for our freedom are doing.

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Meredith, a Marine Corps spouse, knew she wanted to work in the mental health field, but battled her own obstacles getting there. “My dream was to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, but I married my Marine and we’ve moved 6 times in the last 11 years, so the mobile lifestyle made it really difficult to achieve that dream.”

With constant moves, military spouses working to enter the mental health field often feel they’re taking one step forward and two steps back in the journey.

“There are many times throughout my husband’s career that I’ve felt my dreams and goals have been modified, adjusted, and even compromised,” Meredith shared, “I wish the Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network and NMFA scholarships had been around when I went through grad school.”

Your tax-deductible donation to NMFA allows us to better the mental health of our nation’s families in multiple ways, including scholarships for military spouses entering the mental health field.

In 2015, nearly 10% of military spouses who applied for NMFA scholarships were entering the mental health field. Of those, 20% are spouses of wounded or fallen service members.

Your generosity is why NMFA continues to empower and strengthen our military families.

Because of you, their sacrifices won’t go unnoticed.

DONATE NOW

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

When You #OptOutside, You Change on the Inside

Recently, I left my home on the sunny beaches of Florida, and headed for the Pennsylvania mountains for a few days. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself “outdoorsy,” but maybe I could change? This trip to the mountains was unlike any other I’ve experienced. And there were 30 people meeting me there who’d change my perspective in a matter of hours.

You see, I was headed to NMFA’s Operation Purple Healing Adventures® retreat, a free three-day experience for wounded, ill, injured, medically separated, or medically retired military families. At Healing Adventures, families use outdoor exploration, like hiking and canoeing, to encourage each family member’s growth on their new journey post-injury.

I met and chatted with some of the families as they arrived to the Pocono Environmental Education Center—where we’d be camping for the next few days. Some of us connected over our outdoor skills (or lack thereof), and we shared an excitement for the days ahead.

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I went hiking with a Navy veteran, who injured his back during a deployment training exercise, and listened to his family’s story of resiliency. He shared how it felt helpless to rely on his wife to do things for him, and how devastating it was to tell his crying daughter that he couldn’t pick her up to console her because his back couldn’t support them both. Talking to them, I found out it wasn’t just the service member who had to recover after an injury—the family also has to find a ‘new normal.’ After a few more miles, we made it to the summit of the mountain, and I snapped a photo of them to celebrate the moment. They’d been the through peaks and valleys of military life, but when they stood by each other, no obstacle was unconquerable.

The next day, I watched an Army National Guard veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder share a loving moment with his two adolescent sons as they worked together to coax an ember into a burning fire. When the flame took, the sons high-fived, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the father looked transformed with pride as he glanced at his wife, who stood next to me, watching. She was nearly in tears when she shared that her family rarely did anything outdoors together because of her husband’s injury. I watched as she encouraged her boys to gently flame the fire, and celebrated with them when it grew in size. Something told me they’d be an outdoorsy family now.

As I shared Thanksgiving dinner with my own family yesterday, I thought about the millions of people who’d be hitting the pavement to take part in the Black Friday hustle and bustle. Waiting in lines and braving the crowds for stuff wasn’t for me. I wanted to #OptOutside.

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Today, REI, parks, nonprofits, companies and communities are all coming together to get more people outdoors on Black Friday instead of standing in line. And we want you to go outside with us! Whether your family takes a walk together to a playground nearby, go for a bike ride, or rock climb on the Appalachian Trial, we know being outside does something good for the soul.

I decided to take my dog on a long walk in the bright Florida sunshine, because being inside on a 75 degree day seemed unjust. While walking, I remembered those two military families from Healing Adventures camp. Being “outdoorsy” together brought them closer, without distraction, without crowds, and without the need for ‘stuff.’

That trip to Healing Adventures, and meeting those families, was the perfect reminder that despite my lack of outdoorsy-ness, when you decided to #OptOutside, you change on the inside.

Join in the #OptOutside movement by simply walking out your front door! When you do, share it with the world using the #OptOutside hashtag!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Alone for Thanksgiving? Think Again!

My husband left to a remote location for an entire year. I knew this was going to be extremely hard for me; I was all alone, with two children, in a place that was not home to me. To top it all off, the holidays were coming. I had never really been alone for the holidays. Money was tight and we even welcomed a baby just a couple of weeks earlier. I had to decide if I really wanted to stay where I was, or go home for the holidays.

This place, I called it, this miserable and awful place.  I was lonely, depressed, and downright stressed out. Let’s not forget exhausted! Don’t get me wrong, the military base where we were stationed was nice, and the military families were very friendly, but it still didn’t feel like home. I hoped my family would fly out and rescue me but no one could make it–not my mom or my in-laws.

I guess I was staying there for Thanksgiving. My kids wouldn’t know it was a holiday, right? What do they know about Thanksgiving, anyway? I thought to myself, “I will just make a TV dinner and call it a day.” Wrong! My four year old asked, “Mommy, when are we getting the turkey?” I responded with, “Not this year, sweetie.”

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The look on his face was like I killed his puppy. So, I had to change that answer with, “First thing tomorrow morning!” Great, so now I have to buy a turkey, cook it and eat the turkey! I wondered how a four year old knew anything about Thanksgiving. But it was clear: he learned from school, and the TV. In his preschool, they made a turkey out of construction paper. When he watched television, they constantly advertised about Thanksgiving. My four year old won and I would be making a turkey that he would probably barely eat.

The next day, I am in the commissary shopping for the turkey, and I see my neighbor. I quickly say hello and continue shopping. “So, what are you guys doing for the holidays?” she asked, all chipper.

Do I lie, and pretend I have plans?

“I am doing nothing,” I said.

Wait…is she giving me the face? You know, the I-feel-sorry-for-you face. Before, I could tell her not to feel bad for me, she came really close, leaned in and whispered, “I’m alone, my husband is gone, and I’m stuck doing absolutely nothing, too.”

Now, I’m giving her the face, right back. We just started laughing, and after a minute, she said to me, “Hey! Why don’t we have dinner together?”

Now that sounds like a great plan.

We invited more military spouses, who were spending Thanksgiving alone, too. Everyone made their own side dish and I cooked the turkey, of course. As we sat down and ate, I thought, to myself, “My husband isn’t here, but I do have my military family.”

If you are feeling alone for the holidays, talk to your fellow military spouses. You never know, you could be buying and cooking the turkey this year, after all!

Do you have a memorable holiday spent with fellow military families? Share it with us!

Posted by LaTanya Roldan, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse, Mountain Home, Idaho

4 Reasons I’m Thankful for my Military Life

I have known one thing my entire life and it is the military lifestyle. I was born into a Navy family where my dad served for 20 years. When I was 19-years-old, I married an Army soldier and moved to another country. And that move was hard at first. Everything and everyone I loved felt worlds away from me. But even that first move taught me about being grateful. I would love to share with you why I am thankful for this amazing life-long experience.

 Traveling. As a military spouse, I serve my country by supporting my husband and the community we live in. One of the many perks of military life is moving! Don’t get me wrong; moving has its own challenges and craziness, but sometimes a move is awesome, and takes you to the most amazing destinations in the world. Thanks to the military I have been able to explore Europe and many places throughout the United States.

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Relationships. Have you ever heard a Soldier or their spouse refer to their friends as their military family? It is a term I use daily. My husband has served for several years, and throughout the years we have added to our family everywhere we have lived. The friends I met in Germany in 2004 are now a few minutes down the road from us. My daughter refers to them as Auntie and Uncle. Throughout the distance, we have talked and FaceTimed. For now at least, I can go over for dinner and be with my military family.

I am extremely grateful for all the love and time I get with these amazing individuals in the military. With deployment after deployment, missions, and schools my blood family cannot always be there for us, but I have my military family.

Support. Since becoming a military spouse, I have seen amazing support for the Soldiers and their families from post to post. And as I mentioned earlier, I was married at 19, and immediately moved to Germany. My husband was going off to war soon, and there I was standing at the Frankfurt airport scared out of my mind. I did not know what to expect as I looked around me. However, I remember how the unit Family Readiness Group, the USO, and Army Community Service reached out to me. I was not alone because of these organizations on post. They were absolutely amazing with support for new and experienced military families.

New traditions. While living in Europe, I was introduced to a lot of new-to-us traditions. In our travels, we took some old traditions and added them to our must-do’s each year! In Germany, we would visit many Christmas markets, which I miss more than anything else. In Texas, we added Bluebonnet pictures each season. Now we are in Kansas, and I cannot wait to add another tradition to the Richardson family. What traditions have you added to your family?

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With everything in life, you have pros and cons; however, I focus on the positive aspects to keep me going and moving forward. I think looking at things from a positive perspective allows me to be thankful and appreciate this unique lifestyle.

Are you a military family? What are you most thankful for?

jrichardsonPosted by Jessica Richardson, NMFA Volunteer and Army spouse

Making the Most of Your Thanksgiving No Matter Where You Are

We had just made a huge cross country move from Washington State to Virginia. All of our friends and family were on the west coast, and we knew absolutely no one in Virginia yet.

Many boxes still needed to be unpacked and main furniture pieces still needed to be purchased. We mastered the ‘old-box-as-a-dining-room-table’ skill early on, but I knew that wouldn’t handle the Thanksgiving dinner that was just around the corner. Money was a little tight from that move and we were alone on the east coast. We didn’t have things set up in our home, but despite all of that, we made it work somehow and tried to see the glass half full; we had our health, my husband’s job, a roof over our heads, and our family.

A co-worker of my husband told him the USO gave Soldiers and their families Thanksgiving meals, and urged him to go grab one. He managed to get a box, and inside were all the sides we would need for a Thanksgiving dinner, and a gift card to purchase our turkey from a grocery store. We felt so thankful that we were able to be blessed during this time. I had been feeling a little down knowing we’d be alone during the holidays, without friends and family to share it with. Getting adjusted to such a big move and change isn’t easy. All I wanted was to make sure my family was happy (just being a typical mom).

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We got the biggest turkey we could get, and I cooked up everything that was inside that USO box. We had such a feast for our family! We even managed to find a great deal on a dining room table from Craigslist, just in time for Thanksgiving.

It just goes to show you–it doesn’t matter where you are, if you keep a positive outlook on life and have a thankful heart, things just fall into place sometimes. It’s been wonderful to look back and see how everything came together, and it will be one Thanksgiving we will never forget.

How do you deal with holidays away from extended family?

amber-budzynski-headshotPosted by Amber Budzynski, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse

“Tis the Season to Spend Money, fa, la, la, la la…”

In case you missed it, the holiday season is upon us! Cue the cookies, carols, decorations, and, unfortunately, the long list of family and friends to buy gifts for. If you are like me, the idea of spending hundreds of dollars for just one day might bring on a sudden onset of hives. But, save the antihistamine and follow a few key tips to keep your holiday spending in check and maybe even have enough left over for a trip to the Class Six before the in-laws arrive!

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2016 study, American consumers plan to spend an average $935.58 during the holiday shopping season this year. However, that just covers gifts and not the typical other costs such as travel, parties, and other indulgences (like a Venti peppermint mocha with lots of whipped cream).

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Here are a few ideas to come out debt-free in the New Year!

  1. Set limits and budget based on your own finances. Now is not the time to keep up with the Jones’. True friends and family will understand that your financial security is more important than a $300 game system. To help visualize your own holiday budget, check out this free calculator.
  2. Santa brings gifts so you don’t have to. Parents, kids, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, hair-dresser, babysitter, post man, bus driver, oh my! The list goes on and on! Or, does it have to? Is it really necessary to provide gifts for every single person and end up in debt in the process? Perhaps your family will consider drawing names; they may be struggling with holiday spending too!
  3. Shop Smarter. Spread your shopping throughout the year and not just during the peak season (we keep an Excel sheet of what gifts were bought so that we won’t forget). Look for special “savings days” at your favorite retail stores. Use coupons from your newspaper, online or in-store. At the store, use your phone to see if you can get a better price elsewhere. If your favorite store has a price-match policy, you can cash in on savings right there. FYI, the base/post exchange will price-match AND you won’t pay tax (see store for exclusions). Plan your shopping trips by making a list and sticking to it to avoid impulse spending. Buying gift cards? Watch for fees or terms of usage that could erode the value of the gift. Buy directly from the store as bulk gift cards tend to be targets for scammers. Coordinate family gifts for the kids, so you don’t have to do it all yourself.
  4. Go online. Search for coupon codes. Take advantage of free shipping with coupon codes. Speaking of free shipping, December 16 is free shipping day at participating retailers. So make sure to ask if the store you’re shopping will honor that savings. What’s better than free shipping is that the gift is sent directly to your loved one! It will save on wrapping paper and shipping costs. But, you might want to let them know that a gift is on the way so that they can keep an eye out for it and not open it until the big day.
  5. Channel your inner Martha Stewart. Pinterest has TONS of great DIY tutorials that would be sure to please your loved ones. Homemade shows that you took the time to really create something that they would enjoy.
  6. Shop small. Support small businesses to include your fellow military spouses. Watch out for Small Business Saturday that comes the day after Black Friday for even more savings.
  7. Earn some green with credit card rewards. Utilize your credit card for extra rewards during the holiday season. Just remember to stick to your budget and pay the bill on time! Our family saves our rewards for the year and exchange them for cash and gift cards for travel and other unexpected expenses used for the holidays.
  8. Put aside money throughout the year. See if you can send automatic saving withdrawals to a separate savings account each month. Most accounts with online management will let you start a separate account with no changes or fees. Take your budget and divide it by 12. Save that money and, next year, you will be more than prepared to tackle holiday spending!

What holiday shopping tips do you swear by? Share them with us!

robyn_headshotPosted by Robyn Alama Mroszczyk, AFC, NMFA Volunteer

From Corporate to Cul de Sac: Transitioning from an In-Office Job to Working from Home

Three years ago I left my first post-grad job to move to Fort Hood, Texas. After working a retail job for a few months, I found a job at the corporate headquarters of a global technology company. I spent the first few months of the job commuting an hour to and from our home and then, with a deployment looming, we moved closer to my job. The next two years I worked every day in the corporate office, networking, building relationships and getting to know the city.

Then we got the PCS news. Unfortunately for me, my job is not traditionally a remote role. There are very few exceptions made for employees that “need” or “want” to work remotely, and the most recent requests had been denied. I had to make sure my remote request was timed perfectly.

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I set out my objectives and planned. I needed to:

  1. Get my manager/leadership on board to advocate on my behalf for remote work. Every military spouse with career aspirations should have an advocate and mentor within their current job, as well as in their network, to provide career advice.
  2. Write a detailed business case. I referenced Joining Forces, which my company is a part of, as well as the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, DoD rules regarding “Geo-bachelor” moves, and blogs written by my own company giving accolades to the benefits of remote work. These resources helped bring the importance of military spouse employment into the forefront.
  3. Research work from home jobs on FlexJobs.com as well as jobs local to our new location as a back-up plan. Military spouses registered with NMFA get 70% off a one-year subscription to FlexJobs!
  4. Decide if working from home is the best option for me and my career.

There are obvious benefits  to remaining gainfully employed every time you PCS, like the financial benefits. But there are downsides, too. Because my job isn’t traditionally remote, promotions would be difficult and moving from an in office role to a remote role, I would lose a lot of that valuable face time necessary to grow my career. I talked to people in my office who had done a work from home “pilot” program, and the reviews were mixed. Some thought working remotely was saying goodbye to any career growth. Others thought there was no way people could be productive while working remotely. And some thought it would be great and knew their productivity would surge if they could work from home.

Two weeks after we moved, I was still working in the corporate office to finish out the quarter. My manager and director called me in to let me know that I was approved to work from home based on my performance, and they set the guidelines and expectations for working remotely.

I decided to take the work from home opportunity and continue developing myself at my company. I have been working from home for 3 months and overall I am happy with my decision. My productivity has increased tremendously, my day is still structured like a regular work day, and I attend meetings virtually. Thankfully, I had over 2 years to form relationships with my teammates and build my network. Sometimes I do feel isolated being at home all day so I would encourage anyone considering work from home opportunities to get out and get involved in the community, as well as build a network at your new duty station.

Have you ever gone from a corporate office to the cul-de-sac to work remotely? What are the pros and cons you experienced?

Posted by Lesley Boatright, NMFA Volunteer and Army spouse, Fort Benning, GA