Tag Archives: volunteers

Survive and Thrive: Monterey, California!

People come here, to Monterey, California, on vacation–I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stopped on my morning run on the rec trail to take a picture for someone who was struggling with a selfie. There are certainly worse places to spend a year or three, but with so much to do, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of tourists and chased back home by that pesky fog. Here are some tips to survive and thrive, should your military family find yourself here at some point:

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Think like a local.
I’ll tell you: all the houses are circa 1950, small, and insanely expensive. Now that we’ve cleared that up, get used to being on a vacation from your dual sinks and walk-in closet. And lets talk central air conditioning. This south Texas native broke out into a nervous sweat when I was told my AC was just to “open the windows.” But I survived the Indian summer without incident. In fact, while I was confused the first time our heater kicked on in June, my cold toes were definitely appreciative.

Like any savvy local, you’ll need a parking pass as soon as you roll into town. It’s $10 for the year, and it gets you two free hours of parking at three lots in town. It’s saved us oodles of cash in parallel parking and parking at the Fisherman’s Wharf (where I jump on the coastal rec trail for a jog). Annual passes to popular attractions are well worth the money if you can swing it. And finally, thinking like a local means avoiding the crowds. Skip the beach on holiday weekends, and hike instead. Outsmart the line for the aquarium that wraps around the block by showing up right after lunch (that’s when the field trips are loading back on to the buses). But, crowds or not, you need to see the whales, see the greens of Pebble Beach, and visit the world-famous aquarium.

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Go green.
Monthly power outages will remind you in the most inopportune times that electricity is a luxury. Stock up on flashlights, candles, and don’t count out that generator just yet. You’ll also want to collect reusable shopping bags since much of the area charges for bags. And, there’s no better motivation to kick your family’s recycling up a notch like the teeny little trash can you’ll find on your curb.

And since we already know that your abode will be on the small side, you might as well get outside whenever possible. There are hiking trails and beaches everywhere. I can literally use the same parking lot for the beach and the grocery store. Between the redwoods, waterfalls, beaches, sea cliffs, and valleys, you have too much to see to just spend Saturday at the movies. Make sure you have your free (for military) America the Beautiful national park pass, and, if you know you’ll be a frequent visitor, consider a California park pass.

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Ignore the weather.
The sea fog outsmarts me more than I care to admit. Some days it hangs around until after lunchtime, and just when this work-from-home mom has committed to a day of sweatpants, the sun breaks out, shining down rays of guilt for not being more productive and/or adventurous for the day. Other times our outdoor plans are dampened by cold drizzle. We know better now — we throw on raincoats and hike anyway. You can also expect to be cold 11 months of the year — coats are beachwear.

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Branch out.
Fun Monterey fact: It’s the language capital of the world. Embrace it! Learn something new. Befriend an international student.

And, in an attempt to squeeze two meanings into this last ambiguous instruction, “branch out,” as in get out and explore the state — there are some big-ticket bucket list items just up (or down) the road!

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Have you lived in Monterey? What tips would you add?

Posted by Kristi Stolzenberg, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

The Struggles of a New Military Spouse: I Signed Up For This

I became a military spouse 2 years ago, and I am still learning the “ways” of this new life! I thought I knew what I was in for–I grew up with my brother-in-law in the service, and saw all the things my sister did and experienced. Despite having that perspective, I was still in for a rude awakening! Yes, having some background knowledge was helpful, but it certainly didn’t give me everything I needed.

I think one of the biggest hurdles I still face is that my husband and I waited to get married until we were older. I was 34. Sometimes I feel like people think I know everything, or assume that I have been through enough moves or changes that I am a pro at this. That is so far from true!

This life is different, and not only am I not a pro, but I am just as scared and freaked out as the rest of the new spouses. I often find myself wondering where to find my “New Military Spouse” handbook?

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Sometimes I even ask myself, “What the heck did I get myself into?”

I dove right in at my first base, though. I became a Key Spouse and was very involved in unit activities. I always felt up-to-date on what was going on, and what was coming up, and found that I fit in with my new military family very well! Then, out of the blue (or what felt like out of the blue to me), we got our first PCS orders as a family! We headed to a joint base, with very little Air Force family and no unit, and I found myself lost and out of place.

This year, I am learning what it’s like to live on a joint base where I am surrounded by families from other services, instead of being immersed in our own branch of service. This is a very different experience for me, and one that has already taught me quite a bit in a short period of time!

For example, I am learning all the Army words for the equivalent offices, or buildings, I used a lot at our last base–PX instead of BX, Family and MWR instead of Family Readiness Center. I am still overcoming the “not part of a family” feeling and being in the dark about activities, either on this base or with my husbands office; he is not part of a unit, per se, so I don’t have the option to be part of anything.

Despite these challenges and the constant feelings of discomfort, I remind myself that we are on this wild ride as a family. I am privileged to be able to see so many new and wonderful places, and my children get to grow up with such a diverse culture around them. I have an amazing neighbor and friend that I am more than thankful for, and without her I would truly be lost. I remind myself (and I sometimes remind friends and family) that this IS the life I signed up for, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

How do you deal with feeling out of place in the military community?

Posted by Joleen Sickbert, Air Force spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer

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:

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  • 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

Military Housing: An Experience of Then and Now

As a child, I remember the days when military housing was run by the installation. We had to make sure the grass was cut regularly, and there were self-help centers where you could go to get supplies to make sure it happened. There were sports leagues, like softball and volleyball, grouped by neighborhood communities, and the pride that came with winning the neighborhood trophy was contagious. Each neighborhood had Mayors who had administrative responsibilities, and assisted with relaying information to residents.

Those days are long gone.

Now, as a military spouse, I can tell you: housing has changed. The majority of military installations have privatized housing, which means, for the most part, a private housing company is in charge of handling the day in and day out responsibilities of housing.

Once we received orders to North Carolina, I went to the housing website I was given by our current installation. On the website, I had to fill out an application and a provide a copy of our orders. That seemed pretty easy…so far so good. We were sent housing options and floor plans, and were given options based on my husband’s rank and our family size. Because we received our orders early, we were able to choose a more desirable neighborhood, but it had a longer wait list. Once we received our final clearance from our current installation, we were all set to head to North Carolina.

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The day finally came for us to go to the welcome center on our new base. We went straight to housing with all of our required paperwork, and toured the neighborhood we would be living in. There was a neighborhood center, with rooms to rent for birthday parties, Bunco nights, or whatever else, which was very different from what I was used to as a child.

And no cutting the grass, either. They’d have the grass cut for us. And gone are the days of self-help centers. Oh, my husband was super happy about that one! Instead, now maintenance workers would come to my house to fix any crazy problems that we may have. There were monthly activities that we could attend as a family, too. I could really enjoy this new privatized housing thing!

But what about the housing from my childhood?

We could definitely get used to not having to cut our own grass, but as an option, we were told we could cut our own grass, and we would be added to a “do not cut” list.

“That’s okay!” we said and laughed!

“What about the neighborhood sports leagues?”

They’re are none.

“So, what about the Mayors?” I asked. Another no.

“How will we get information?”

Now, there are monthly newsletters delivered by the housing staff. We could even read them on the neighborhood website.

To stay positive, I would give this new type of housing a chance, and not be stuck on what I remembered as a military child.

Although I do miss the neighborhood sports teams and the Mayor, my first experience with privatized housing has been a great experience! There have been definite upgrades to what I remember as a child. I don’t know if I can say that privatized military housing is better, but I can say, for my family, we enjoyed our first experience.

Did you enjoy your first experience with privatized military housing?  Do you have any tips to help others with a smooth transition?

Posted by Elizabeth H., military spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer

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.

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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.

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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

Military Money Matters: 4 Tips for PCS Budgeting

Mil Money Matters

PCS season is upon us, and almost every military family can agree that a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move is difficult for even the most seasoned service families! One of the biggest concerns during a move is the impact it can have on your budget.

Each time we PCS, it presents us with an opportunity to break out our budgeting tools, crack open our family’s trusty budget spreadsheet, or just bust out the paper and pencil and re-visit that tried and true paycheck planner. Whatever your method of choice, it’s imperative that you prepare for your move in advance by making a travel budget.

Having sufficient funds on hand to make the move is critical to alleviating unnecessary stress. While your branch of service will reimburse you for many travel expenses, crunching the numbers before you back out of the driveway or hit the runway will make your PCS much more enjoyable! Thankfully, there’s a wealth of information out there; here are a few tips to help you navigate the sea of great financial resources:

  1. Start with the basics! Begin gathering information on the cost of living at your new duty station by visiting the Department of Defense BAH Calculator. Simply plug in your service member’s rank, your new duty station’s zip code, and the year, and the calculator will provide you with the BAH rates for your family. Once you have this information, take a look at area housing and compare costs. Remember to consider the cost of utilities, too. Call the local cable company and lookup the average cost of electricity, gas, heat, etc. for homes in the area. Knowing your basic housing costs is an excellent place to start!
  2. Take a look at the distance between where you might like to live and the nearest commissary. Commissaries save military families an average of 30% on their groceries, so most of the time, it’s worth the trip! If you will be quite far from the commissary, locate some information on what basic food items in the area cost so you can estimate your monthly grocery bill. Housing, utilities, food and vehicles make up the bulk of a military family’s monthly expenses, so starting here will give your budget a solid foundation.
  3. Speaking of cars, check your vehicle expenses. When you move, insurance rates can change, along with taxes paid on your vehicle each year. This is especially important for leases. Car insurance will fluctuate, and remember each state has different laws regarding insurance coverage. Take a moment to look up this information and adjust your plan accordingly. Planning for possible insurance cost fluctuations is much cheaper than paying the ticket you’ll receive if you drive without the proper coverage! Also, don’t forget to factor gas prices and commute into your budget.
  4. Get the scoop from your Admin section before you leave your current duty station. Take a moment to visit with your personnel office and learn your entitlements before you go. Many military families don’t ask about Dislocation Allowance (DLA), which they are entitled each time they move. DLA’s purpose is to offset the cost of a military PCS, so that families don’t spend an excessive amount of money out of their own pockets when they move. In addition, make sure you understand what receipts to save and what expenses are covered as part of your move. When travel claims are filed, you want to have the necessary documentation so that any monies you are owed are returned to you as quickly as possible.

In the end, no two military families PCS in the same way, so choose the methods which are best for you. Just be sure that budgeting is a part of your process! Having a financial PCS plan will go a long way toward starting your new tour off on the right foot.

What are your best budgeting tips for a PCS? Leave us a comment and share!

meredithPosted by Meredith Lozar, MHR, AFC, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager

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.

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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