America Supports You: Web Hub Helps Spouse Groups Connect
By Ashleigh Covington
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 29, 2006 Frequent moves make it difficult for military spouses to maintain relationships with friends they make at each new assignment.
Vicki Cariello, a Navy wife and family support group adviser in Gulfport, Miss., helps a girl sort through Easter eggs at a unit's Spouses Club Hub event. Spouse club Leaders like Cariello can create personalized Web sites for their groups, giving military spouses the ability to network with each other on the Internet. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
But thanks to Meredith Leyva and her CinCHouse.com Web site, military spouses can now stay in touch with one another through Web-based communities.
CinCHouse is a member organization of the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program, which spotlights and facilitates support among private Americans and the nation's corporate sector for America's men and women in uniform. Founded in 1999, CinCHouse is a nonprofit organization of military spouses, and it provides an Internet portal they can use to manage daily activities and establish support groups for one another.
Leyva, who has been married for nine years to Lt. Fernando Leyva, a Navy diver and physician, said she understands the strain of deployment and frequent relocations and wants other military wives to know they are not alone. Having relocated eight times in nine years, she struggled to maintain a career, take care of her children and at the same time keep in touch with friends she had made throughout the nine years.
"The irony about the Web is that it's the only permanent location for military families throughout multiple relocations," she said. "It's one sense of permanency for this generation of military families."
CinCHouse - which gets its name from military shorthand for "Commander in Chief of the House" -- initially formed for wives like Leyva who did not have the time to attend meetings during the day, but still needed a way to connect to military wives in similar situations.
"When I was working I didn't have time to attend the spouse club meetings, so my girlfriends and I jimmied up a little Web site where we could chat online during the day and post news articles and information," she explained. "And today we receive up to 980,000 visitors per month. So I am definitely not the only one, and that makes sense. It turns out I am actually the typical demographic. Somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of military wives work outside the home, so its much more of a true partnership in the marriage."
After its initial success, the organization established individual unit Web sites - called Spouse Club Hub -- to frequently update and report news and activities occurring throughout their communities.
Introduced in December 2005, Spouse Club Hub became a quick and easy way to keep in touch no matter where they were living.
"Within four months we had over 100 groups signed up, including the USS Eisenhower and USS Pensacola, and all but one of the Oak Leafs medical officers' spouses' clubs in the continental United States," said Leyva.
The site gives spouses the ability to post their events on calendars, select from a variety of activity groups, upload photos, and send e-mails to each other.
Groups can remain connected even in times of natural disaster. As Hurricane Katrina scattered many military families among several states, Vicki Cariello, a Navy wife and family support group adviser in Gulfport, Miss., did not anticipate the split of her own unit. Determined to contact and find the families of her unit, she quickly built a Web site using the Spouse Club Hub system in hopes of re-establishing contact with those she lost touch with. She is now connected with many of the wives from her unit and reaching out to many more.
"My Spouse Club Hub was so easy to build, even though I'm not particularly computer savvy," said Cariello in a news release. "Best of all, I can share information and build our contact list of 450 families on the Web site instead of cluttering my house each month with expensive print mailings."
Leyva says she owes a great deal of gratitude to USAA, a financial services company serving military members and their families worldwide. USAA officials offered their services and provided Web tools and hosting for no cost.
"USAA shared the vision we had for reviving the military family community through the Spouse Club Hub," she said.
The Web sites provide an easy and beneficial way for wives to log on at any time and participate whenever they want. The information is updated frequently and offers a variety of topics and discussions to choose from.
"One of the things that we've learned through experience is that the Web is the most convenient place for military wives to get together," said Leyva. "You can do it from the comfort of your own computer, whether you are pretending to work in the office or if it's 11 at night when the kids have gone to bed. It's easy to get together."
The Internet groups also provide a safe haven for those military wives who may be reluctant to join and commit to groups, but still need the support of their peers.
"With the Web site, people can test the waters without getting involved, and when they get super busy with their lives they can still stay in touch with the club. They can jump back in when they see an event on the calendar that's convenient and fun," said Leyva.
"It takes a while for a person to get comfortable enough before they will get involved," she continued. "The same is true for spouse clubs. It's hard for this generation to show up and be chit-chatty with others in the club. They want to know in advance that these are people they can relate to and do activities that are fun."
The site continues to build up its support network for military families and hopes to recruit as many willing spouse groups as possible. Leyva said she hopes all groups will share their experiences and learn from one another.
"We want to support our husbands," she said. "We're 'ooh-rah' too, but it requires a special kind of logistical planning to be successful in military life. Its important for military wives to inform themselves about how military life is and how to get the most out the system to succeed."