Group Helps Guard, Reserve Children With After-School Activities
By Jamie Findlater
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 7, 2008 Deployments are tough on military families, especially on the children.
Children of deployed National Guardsmen and reservists often must deal not only with a parent’s absence, but also with the financial burden their family must bear when the deployed parents’ military pay is less than they earn in civilian life.
“Our Military Children” helps fund after-school activities for children of the National Guard and reserves when a parent is deployed, one of the organization’s founders said in an interview on the “ASY Live” program on BlogTalkRadio.com. “ASY” stands for America Supports You, a Defense Department program that connects citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.
“It is so important to keep these kids in a routine, to keep them involved in activities and on track,” said Gail Kruzel, executive director of Our Military Children. “Unfortunately, the challenges these families face are compounded by the fact that when a reservist is called up for active duty, many times his or her income can drop substantially. So, just when the children most need these extracurricular activities, the family can no longer afford them.”
Our Military Kids funds activities ranging from Tai Kwan Do to scholarships for tutoring for children in kindergarten through high school. "A lot of times, kids that are good students start falling behind in school," Kruzel said. "Tutoring grants help the kids get back on track. We fund a wide range of programs depending on the child’s interest, … from modeling to drivers education."
Kruzel and her partner, Linda Davidson, founded the organization to do their part. Kruzel knows first-hand about the challenges of raising children in a single-parent home; her children were 12 and 14 when her husband, a diplomat, was killed on a peace mission to Bosnia.
For many military kids, Kruzel said, the ability to continue to pursue activities they love keeps them focused and helps them cope. One of the organization’s first grants went to a "daddy's girl" who was greatly distressed with her father's deployment and falling behind in school, she recalled.
"[Her father’s deployment] was really upsetting," Kruzel said, "but as soon as she got the extra help, … she got almost straight As the next year in second grade.”
Another child who had taken dance lessons for more than nine years was forced to drop out when the family’s finances suffered during her father’s deployment. "It was a part of who she was," Kruzel said, "and when we were able to get her dancing again, it helped her get through this difficult time."
Since its inception, Our Military Kids has given out nearly 3,000 grants, and it’s now a nationwide program. To date, the organization has honored all eligible requests, Kruzel said, and is celebrating the distribution of its millionth dollar.
Eligible families can apply online at www.ourmilitarykids.org, attaching a copy of the deployment orders, the child’s military ID, and information about the child’s desired activity. Upon submitting the application, families will hear back in a matter of days.
"We feel that kids need to know if they can be on the baseball team or participate in dance or gymnastics, so we have a very quick turnaround," Kruzel said.
Our Military Kids is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.
"Military families make so many sacrifices, and we're helping to do our little part to minimize the sacrifices here at home," Kruzel said.
(Jamie Findlater works in the New Media branch at American Forces Information Service.)