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America Supports You: Network Brings World to Military Families

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2005 – Moving to unfamiliar places can make anyone feel a bit like a fish out of water.

Combined with frequent moves, such as those in the military can be, that unsettled feeling can be much more intense.

Caroline Peabody is attempting to help by "making the world a home for military families."

To do this, Peabody introduced the Military Family Network, an online community-building organization. The network's goal is to help bridge the gap between military installation and civilian community life.

"Military families learn best from other military families and their experiences with whatever they experience when they're in a community," Peabody said.

The MFN Web site gives them a place to share their experiences and gain insight into the communities they live in or are moving to. It is designed to provide servicemembers and their families core information about the community surrounding the military installation where they are stationed.

And the same core information is offered for each installation. "What we're trying to do is standardize all these (topics and) have military families be confident that when they go from one (installation) to the other, this is the kind of information that they can find here, all the time, in the exact same place, no matter where they go," Peabody said.

While information is not yet available for all installations and communities, Peabody said that the Web site is a work in progress and will continue to grow.

"We have a lot in our database now," she said. "It's just not live. We want to make it all live at once."

That includes information for 300 installations that are due to be added to what's already available, she said. She added that information on nearly all major military installations should be ready to go live within about six weeks.

"There will always be more that we can do," she said.

Peabody's quest to continually better the two-year-old endeavor resulted in the Community Connection Outreach project that started several months ago. The outreach portion of the Web site serves to flesh out the core information that the Web site provides.

It encourages non-profit groups, community organizations and government agencies, including local governments, to join the forum and the individuals who meet there. Their participation will make the Community Connections Forums interactive by providing information on services, events and happenings that will be able to be accessed on the site, Peabody said. It's a sort of cyber- networking of people and services.

"I like the word 'network,' she said in describing what happens through Community Connections. "It's a very powerful thing."

Peabody knows how helpful that network can be. She is the spouse of a recently retired soldier. Her husband served with the Army on active duty for 22 years and was in the National Guard for six years. He retired from the Continental Army Band based at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., where the Military Family Network is headquartered.

What she found is that the knowledge gained by a civilian family that lives in the same area for years is lost on military families. The network Web site is her way of remedying that.

"Over time, we're creating that intergenerational knowledge for the military community," Peabody said.

The city of Hampton has formed a partnership with the Military Family Network to help bridge that generational knowledge gap, said Tammy Flynn, marketing and community outreach manager for the Hampton Neighborhood office.

Flynn said she thinks that the military is more in touch with what Hampton is doing because of the partnership with Military Family Network.

"We have resources (and) information that military folks need that we're sharing with them," Flynn said. She said the opposite also is true: The city is also more in touch with what the military needs.

"It will take awhile to see the big results of (the partnership)," Flynn said.

But a good indicator, she said, will be the number of military members who attend an event being planned for May.

City officials will be highlighting Hampton to potential homebuyers, Flynn said. The city relied on the Military Family Network for assistance to ensure that the event is useful for the military community.

"They're providing an incredible service for the military community," Flynn said, adding that it's a needed service because often communities forget that the military community has unique needs.

Peabody said she started the Military Family Neighbor of Choice Business Network to fund the Military Family Network. Businesses recommended by servicemembers because they are supportive of military families can, for a fee, elect to be included in the community directories.

For their fee, their name and services are put on the Web site in front of the military community as being "military friendly" and military families are encouraged to patronize them. There also are a few paid advertisements that appear on the site, Peabody said.

Once a member of the network, families can also leave comments about their experience with a specific business.

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