Director of Adopt an Airman at F.E. Warren AFB earns Compassion-in-Action Award
By MARGARET AUSTIN | Wyoming Tribune-Eagle | Published: December 13, 2020
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Tribune News Service) — Through the Adopt an Airman program in Laramie County, service members who are new to F.E. Warren Air Force Base have gotten to know the community and experience the activities Wyoming has to offer, thanks to generous host families who try to provide "a home away from home."
According to program founder and director Carolyn Ritschard, the idea was inspired by a similar program at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Since the first pairing in May 2019, Adopt an Airman has connected about 140 airmen with more than 70 host families in town.
For touching the lives of so many with her vision and for welcoming Air Force members into the community, Ritschard earned Compassionate Cheyenne's 19th Compassion-in-Action Award, which was presented Thursday.
"I've heard it said that vision is half the success. But in this case, Carolyn's hard work and effort was way beyond half. She not only had the vision, but she put forth an incredible amount of energy to make it happen," Compassionate Cheyenne's Loretta Barker said.
Getting the program off the ground was no easy task. Ritschard worked hand in hand with soon-to-be Mayor Patrick Collins for a year to earn a final approval from the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce and F.E. Warren Air Force Base. Extensive thought has gone into every aspect of the program, which ensures that host families and the airmen and women have the opportunity to build lasting connections.
The matching doesn't just happen at random; each party goes through an application process where they check off which activities they enjoy. Then, Ritschard and a team of volunteers will complete phone interviews to find the most compatible fit.
"It's been a team effort with the volunteers, who have really put in hours and hours," Ritschard said.
For one airman, that level of detail opened up the door for him to learn how to fly fish. His grandpa was an avid fly angler, and he always wanted to learn, so he was connected with a family who could give him that experience.
"These young men and women — they're just going through so many transitions in life: not only joining the Air Force, but also moving to a place far away from home and beginning a new career. So it's nice for them to have somebody else that they can talk with outside of their chain of command, people that are established in the community," Ritschard said. "That way, they can explore the community, but just have a place to relax, too."
The Adopt an Airman program, carried out by the Chamber's Military Affairs Committee, has become so popular among new recruits at F.E. Warren that there are currently about 40 on the wait list to be matched with a family.
To be a host family doesn't take any strong financial commitments. Instead, Ritschard said, "It's like pulling up an extra seat at the table."
And one of the goals of the Compassion-in-Action Award is to inspire others to do the same, whether it's on a personal level or through a program like Adopt an Airman. Compassionate Cheyenne focuses on recognizing people in the community who are focused on issues like housing, health care and food insecurity, and each award winner receives $100 from the Sunrise Rotary Club, with funds provided by RBC Wealth Management, in the hope of inspiring more compassion in the community.
Barker said, "The award acknowledges people who have put kindness and compassion into action. While we can't all be a Carolyn and go out and start a program, we can all do those little things in life that come our way and can touch the lives of others."
Ritschard agreed, saying, "The wonderful thing about these Compassion-in-Action awards is that it does inspire other people; it raises their awareness of what the needs are in the community and pushes people to actually reach out and get involved in supporting other people, developing relationships and making other people smile."