Bunko, bingo and bazaars are still alive and well, but as the influence and expertise of military spouses expand, so does the scope of military spouse events.
Military spouses from various branches have stepped up to create workshops and event packages, which are available to spouse clubs or on-base organizations.
Usually offered at low or no cost to attendees, the events may be funded by military family services or spouse club funds. When on-base funds are limited – often the case these days – special events are underwritten by commercial sponsors.
The programs, tailored to military life, may focus on personal, spiritual, social or professional issues or all of the above.
Tara Crooks and Star Henderson, founders of Army Wife Network, developed a program called “Field Exercise.” The two Army wives customize their content depending on the challenges of a particular location, deployment issues at one post, employment at another. Two Field Exercise events are planned this fall: at Fort Carson, Colo., in September and at Fort Knox, Ky., in November.
Military.com, a division of Monster.com offers “Spouse Experience,” or “Spouse X,” said Jacey Eckhart, Navy wife and director of spouse and family programs at Military.Com.
“We can bring our Spouse X event almost anywhere,” she said, adding that her team tries to include all service branches as much as possible. The next Spouse X event is in Norfolk, Va., in August. In the last year, Jacey said she’s taken the show on the road to California, Kentucky, Virginia and Italy.
Americans Working Around the Globe (formerly American Women’s Activities in Germany) provides professional and personal development workshops for spouses in several European countries. Created in 1946, AWAG offers regular installation-level workshops as well as leadership conference each spring.
Karen Russ, AWAG chairperson, said these events “empower spouse volunteers with knowledge, prepare them for leadership roles in their community.”
Speakers, whether humorous, informational or inspirational, are a common feature at many events. A Military.com event in Washington, D.C., this spring featured Medal of Honor recipient Ssgt. Salvatore Giunta.
Marine wife and comedian Mollie Gross has provided a dose of laughter at events for Military.com as well as “Live, Laugh, Learn” seminars for USMC Life, created by another Marine wife, Kristine Schellhaas.
“These events are empowering and full of laughter,” said Mollie.
Events often include interactive segments where spouses to connect and discuss issues facing their community.
“I love to get the emails from spouses who found a new friend at one of our events,” said Jacey.
Army wives Holly Scherer and Kathie Hightower, in their “Follow Your Dreams While You Follow the Military” presentation, challenge their participants to come up with impossible dreams and brainstorm ways to make them happen.
In October, Holly and Kathie are scheduled to speak at the National Military Spouse Network Summit in Alexandria, Va.
Air Force wife Sue Hoppin, founder and president of NMSN, said this type of event provides an opportunity for military spouses to support one another in career-related issues.
“It's important that spouses are armed with the information they need to set them up for success,” she said. “I think it's easier … when you realize that other spouses are out there working at every level of government, running successful organizations and balancing their careers with the military lifestyle, and even more powerful when you actually get to meet and speak to them.”
Connecting with other spouses can be helpful for spouses whether they are working or not, said Navy wife Lori Volkman, communications director for the Military Spouse JD Network and a prosecutor in Washington state.
“It's contagious to see another military spouse who is doing what you thought couldn't be done,” she said. “I'm often inspired to do what I once thought impossible after those kinds of events, and I have the new contacts to actually make it happen.”
Tara emphasized that getting together with other military spouses provides support and encouragement.
“All too often we find ourselves in tough situations both mentally and physically,” she said. “These events provide an opportunity to renew your spirit with reminders of why this military life can be positive and loved … and much-needed time away from the hectic lives we lead.”
Americans Working Around the Globe: http://www.awagonline.org/
Spouse Experience (from Military.com) http://spousebuzz.com/blog/2013/05/why-you-should-come-to-spouse-experience-quantico.html
Field Exercise (Army Wife Network): http://www.armywifenetwork.com/?page_id=111
Follow Your Dreams workshop (Scherer/Hightower) http://www.militaryspousehelp.com/workshops.html
National Military Spouse Network: http://www.nationalmilitaryspousenetwork.org/
Mollie Gross: http://www.molliegross.com/
USMC Life: http://usmclife.com/