Volunteering has dual purpose in Europe
October 7, 2007
Laura Harville gives each Girl Scout a hug on her way out the door, leaving everyone beaming with bigger smiles and more energy than when the troop meeting started.
“I take all the hugs I can get,” said the 21-year-old Army wife, whose husband deployed for Iraq in September with the 1st Armored Division out of Wiesbaden.
“If you don’t come in with energy, you leave with plenty.”
For Harville, volunteering with the Girls Scouts is not only a way to give back — especially to girls whose fathers are downrange — but also a coping method while her husband is away.
“When we’re struggling, the girls help us, and when they’re struggling, we’re here for them because we know what they’re going through,” said Harville, who leads the troop with another Army wife whose husband is also deployed with the 1st AD.
But while Harville finds comfort in keeping busy, other spouses can’t shake the emotional strain that deployment brings and withdraw from volunteer commitments altogether.
“That’s happening here right now,” said Ellen Eldredge, committee chairwoman for Boy Scout Troop 295 in Vicenza, Italy, where deployments by the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team have thinned the community’s volunteer force.
“It makes you very sad. But I feel the most supportive thing to do is not put the pressure on them. Of course, you always keep the door open.”
Deployments and the constant movement of military and civilian personnel in and out of European garrisons strain the volunteer pool.
“It’s a constant battle and has been for years,” said Vince Cozzone, assistant scout executive for the Boy Scouts’ Transatlantic Council in Europe.
Communities with highest rates of deployments often suffer the most, “although we’re blessed because we do have people to step forward to keep things going for the kids,” he said.
Spreading the word that moms can volunteer with the Boy Scouts — as Eldredge is doing — has helped the organization through tough times, he said.
It’s a similar situation for Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bill Duchanse, who volunteers with the Girl Scouts in Wiesbaden, where his three daughters are involved in as many troops.
“Especially with the deployment, I just want to do my part to help out,” he said.
“And you don’t have to jump right in and do a million different things. [Volunteering is] something you have to ease into. Even the smallest things need to be done and are appreciated,” said Duchanse, known as a “Do-Dad” among the local Girl Scouts.
Duchanse, who also coaches volleyball for Child and Youth Services, said being a mentor to kids with parents downrange is challenging but fulfilling.
“I know how hard it’s for them,” he said. “I try to get them involved more, get their minds off things, if just for an hour or two.”
The trick to maintaining programs, particularly when a community is experiencing a massive deployment, is to let people know their help is needed, said Arlana Young, the CYS volunteer coordinator in Vicenza.
What’s more, “you have to reassure them that there’s support there for them. That’s the main thing that keeps people from volunteering. They don’t want to look stupid in front of the kids,” Young said. “But we’re not going to let that happen.”
Vicenza’s CYS is launching a campaign to encourage spouses of deployed soldiers to volunteer.
“That’s an area we’re going to start pushing pretty hard. The fact that your husband or wife is deployed is all the more reason to get out and get involved in the community,” Young said.
“Don’t sit home and worry. The time passes a lot more quickly when you’re doing things.”
No one knows that better than Christy Cordero, whose husband, a sergeant with the 596th Maintenance Company out of Darmstadt, Germany, just got back from his third deployment downrange.
Cordero, a mother of five and Brownie troop leader, said staying busy was key to surviving while her husband was away.
“If I just sat around and worried about what’s going on, I’d get depressed,” said the 32-year-old. “There can’t be any idle time or my mind starts wondering.”
Between volunteering, running the household and taking online college courses, Cordero — who gets up at 4:30 a.m. most days to study — is constantly on the go.
And that’s the way she likes it.
“A lot of ladies look at me and say, ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ she said. “And I look at them and say ‘How do you not?’”