Randi and family
Home Front Hearts provides resources and advocacy for service members and their families. A big part of what we're about is community building educating individuals/businesses/civic groups, etc. about what it really means to be a military family and how they can use their own interests, talents, etc. to support these families.
How did you get involved in this in the first place, Randi?
With over twenty years in the not-for-profit sector delivering services to vulnerable populations, I believed myself to be relatively competent in identifying and utilizing resources. When I found myself struggling to identify necessary resources for my own family, I realized how challenging it could be to navigate the system. Where services did exist, they weren't always accessible to military families. For instance, health providers were unwilling to take our military insurance. Gaps in other services had me continually fighting for what should have been readily available. It occurred to me if I was having such a hard time, than this was likely the case with most military families. And thus Home Front Hearts was born. I figured that if I was going to fight for my own family, it was an opportunity to advocate for other families as well.
With your work background delivering services, it sounds like you were just the right person to put this program together. Our readers don't know anything about you, Randi, so, please tell us more. Your husband is in the National Guard, correct? How and why is that different, in terms of the services you're eligible for?
I have a Bachelors in Psychology and a Masters in Human Services with a focus on Nonprofit Management. If there had been a "least likely to marry a soldier" award in high school, it would have been mine. I was more the type to be found hotly contesting the idea that the military would get funding that was desperately needed by other social service entities. When I met and fell in love with a National Guardsman almost sixteen years ago I "signed up for" one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer.
In the time since then, he has been deployed three times. In "real time" back at home, he missed the birth of our youngest child, his father's heart attack, his parents' house fire, a critical care hospitalization for our first born, four assorted surgeries for three of our children, and the sight of me cutting off a foot cast with a steak knife over a two-hour period of time because it was interfering with my ability to drive our children where they needed to be. Note that we haven't begun to include birthdays, anniversaries, first steps and the other special moments that are easy to take for granted when your loved one isn't in a war zone a world away.
Today more than ever, the distinction between National Guard/Reserve and active duty military is very blurred. They fight side by side. Their families make the same sacrifices. The main difference is that National Guard/Reserve don't live in communities that understand what it means to serve (and when a soldier serves, his whole family serves too). Home Front Hearts is working hard to change that.
When my husband is on active duty orders, he/we are eligible for the same services in terms of medical, behavioral health, etc. as the regular active duty guys. Unfortunately "eligible" doesn't always translate into services received.
So, in many ways, the National Guard does everything that their military counterparts do, but without either the benefits (in real life) or the support. It's stressful enough having a spouse/parent overseas with support, but without it, it must be murder. I would imagine that there are lots of divorces and separations among National Guard families. The pressures must be enormous.
As you've stated, deployments are stressful to ALL military families active duty and Guard/Reserve alike. There have been many research studies released recently that discuss the toll deployments can play on our children, our families and our marriages. But I don't want to give the impression of our families being struggling victims. Military families are strong, resilient and resourceful. Those same studies agree that supportive communities and a sense of belonging can mitigate many of the challenges we face. Home Front Hearts then, for me, is about building those kinds of supportive communities.
So how do you go about building a supportive network?
The whole premise of Home Front Hearts is that you don't have to be rich or affluent or endowed with any unique skill set to make a difference. You just need to care enough to find out what needs to be done and then do it. I've been so delighted to learn that most people WANT to help. They just need tangible suggestions for how they can do so. I've found that the most effective way to build supportive networks is to be out there and talking to people. You speak with a neighbor who mentions a story you shared to his church/synagogue and before you know it, there's a caring community involved. When that happens it's the very best part of my job!
How about some concrete ways this caring community helps military families? I get this in the abstract but could benefit from some specific examples.
Home Front Hearts' work with the "Smith" family is a great example of how a community can come together and make a significant difference in the life of a military family. Sgt. "Smith" was medically discharged after 11 years of military service and only received a 10% disability rating from the VA for Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His spouse lost her job because she missed too much work taking care of his frequent medical emergencies. With no computer or internet connection and living 90 minutes from the closest military installation, this family was completely disconnected from the military and unaware of resources that might be available to them. They'd spent all their savings, were living on $600 a month and had $14 to pay for a week of groceries when we were contacted. Here are the steps we took to assist this family:
We were contacted in late October by a non-profit specializing in employment. They referred this wounded warrior spouse from NC to us because she told them "she had to get a job because her family couldn't afford to eat." They contacted us to see if we could assist this family. We determined their needs and: a) got the family in contact with Marine Corp Relief Services for emergency funds; (b) referred the family to legal services to assist with their issues with the Veterans Administration (c) had a daycare in NJ contact us about donating "Christmas" to a military family (d) contacted the family to see if they'd be willing to receive assistance and passed their critical needs to the daycare; (e) received donations from the daycare to pay house and truck payment, gift cards to pay for food and nine large boxes of clothes, toys and household goods and (f) found another Marine family who assisted by paying shipping charges.
This wounded soldier and his lawyer appealed to the VA for reconsideration in November and recently learned that his disability rating was increased to 60%. With a computer we were also able to acquire for her, this wounded warrior spouse was able to start a flexible work-at-home job so that she can care for her warrior but also provide much needed income for her family.
Every family's story, and consequently their needs, varies. Home Front Hearts works with each family individually to provide the most comprehensive support possible.