MADISON (WKOW) -- While their loved ones are serving in Iraq, volunteers from the 32nd Infantry Combat Team Family Readiness Group are giving back to their communities.
"Our communities have been fantastic with their support," said Janell Kellett, the lead volunteer for the 32nd Brigade's Family Readiness Group. "We wanted to give our families something positive to focus on, and we determined that partnering with the community for service projects would be beneficial for all."
Traditionally, family readiness groups supply family members with the tools and resources they need. This new program, "Moving Forward, Giving Back" offers families new opportunities to get involved outside of meetings.
"Meetings can be boring," acknowledged Tim Benz, lead volunteer for the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry FRG, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom himself. "But the community is always out there. You want to be able to pay them back. This is a way to get the families involved with the community and do something social at the same time."
Benz says it's important for families to unite during these difficult times. It can be especially important for veteran families, those who have been through deployments before, to be able to connect with newer families.
"If I can get two families to connect at a community event, it accomplishes a lot," he said.
Examples of community service projects some family groups have helped with include holding food drives for local pantries or veteran's homes collections. One group plans to hold a garage sale that will benefit the local Humane Society.
The idea for the program came in May 2008, when Kellett met with 58 battalion and company-level lead volunteers to star preparing for an upcoming deployment.
"Many of us have been through a deployment before, and we see the stress it puts on families and on the volunteer system," she said. Aside from educating the families and providing support, the groups also want to encourage community service projects as a means of staying motivated.
The slogan challenges them to move forward and to give back to communities that support them during deployments.
"During a deployment, there's this sense that your service member is contributing, but you are not," Kellett said.
Benz says the family readiness groups want people to help the Guard by helping the community. He remembers the abundance of care package items he and his fellow servicemen and women received while serving in Iraq. Although the thoughtfulness behind the care packages was appreciated, he believes that helping the community is a more productive way to support the troops.
"There will still be care packages, cards mailed out, and we will still be supporting the soldier in every way," Kellett said, "but the focus of the family readiness groups is on the families and on the communities.
"A soldier's greatest need is to know their family is taken care of while they're gone," she added. "If people are looking at helping the soldier, they should look at helping the families."
So far, the groups have taken on only a few community-focused activities, but now that the 32nd Brigade has deployed, Kellett says the family readiness groups can start moving their focus from readiness to community service.
Kellett encourages community members looking to support the troops to contact the family readiness group at their local armory to see how they can help, or contact the Family Program Office at 1-800-292-9464.