America Supports You: Virginia Group Focuses on Military Kids
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 1, 2006 Deployed reserve-component troops are receiving support packaged a little differently from they're used to, thanks to a Virginia-based nonprofit organization supporting them by supporting their children.
Linda Davidson (seated) and Gail Kruzel (standing, left) organized Our Military Kids, Inc., to help maintain normalcy in the lives of children with a deployed reserve-component parent. Michelle Nelson, now an Our Military Kids staff member, is the wife of a Virginia Army National Guardsman whose unit served as the pilot unit for the program. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Linda Davidson and Gail Kruzel, founders of "Our Military Kids, Inc.," realize many extracurricular activities for children are available on military bases. But for children whose parents are in the reserves or National Guard, however, those resources aren't always close to home.
"It's important to keep them in a routine, the same routine that existed before Dad or Mom was deployed," Davidson said. She added that the group's goal was not only to maintain familiar routines, but also to keep children focused on something other than their parents' absence.
Incorporated in October 2004, Our Military Kids offers grants of up to $500 per child for extracurricular activities. The grants can be used for academic tutoring, sports or fine arts programs and can be requested every six months, she said. Since April, about 100 grants have been awarded at an average of about $320 each.
Currently, the program is only available in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, Davidson said. Eligibility is limited to children living in those areas with a deployed parent or those whose parents are attached to a unit in those areas but who live elsewhere. Children of severely injured reserve-component servicemembers are exempt from the residency or unit-affiliations rules, she said.
The program received initial sponsorship from The Boeing Company and other defense contractors after achieving nonprofit status in April. Now donations come from individuals as well as large and small companies, Kruzel said.
"Funding is our limitation," Davidson said. "We're trying to roll (the program) out gradually because we don't want to have to reject any requests."
The group hopes to expand in the future to include all states. Existing plans have Our Military Kids moving into West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware, Michelle Nelson, director of family programs and community relations for the group, said.
Nelson's family is part of the Virginia National Guard's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry. Her husband is the company commander of the Winchester, Va., unit that served as the pilot unit for the program.
Nelson, Kruzel and Davidson said they feel compelled to minimize the sacrifices made by servicemembers' children. "It's (our) way of showing support for those families who have been asked to sacrifice," Davidson said. Nelson added that soldiers would prefer to have support offered to their children than to receive a box of edible goodies.
"It is much better for the soldier to know ... that his kids are OK and in the end tie up the deployment and think back and think, 'It wasn't so bad.'"
Program applications are available online. A copy of the deployed parent's orders and documentation that supports the cost of the activity must accompany the application.
Processing an application takes about 10 days, Davidson said. When a grant is awarded, the recipients also receive an "Our Military Kids" patch and an award certificate. The grant money is sent directly to the organization providing the lessons or activity.