WOBURN, Mass. – Some might say that it was fate that would place members of the military; state and local leaders; and educators from the North Shore area in the Woburn Memorial High School’s auditorium late Tuesday afternoon to discuss and hopefully grow one issue. … Fort Beverly.
It started roughly 18 months ago when Jennifer Rogers-Burke, school adjustment counselor, North Beverly Elementary School, took a phone call from a mother with two young children.
“She introduced herself as being new to the school and she had these two little guys … they were having behavioral issues at home and at school,” recalled Rogers-Burke. “She had moved here from Washington state, had no family … had made no friends … her husband had been deployed.”
Rogers-Burke sat down with the school principal, Jennifer Flewelling to see what they could do.
“We looked at all the different issues she was having, trying to piece together what services there were available for her,” said Rogers-Burke. “It was the first time either one of us had had that challenge and we didn’t know what services were available.”
Flewelling and Rogers-Burke reached out to the community and were able to help the family.
“It really got us to thinking: ‘Who are the military kids in our school’?” said Flewelling. “So we sent home a letter inviting families to identify themselves as military connected.”
The school did not just focus on whether a child’s parent was in the military (Active-duty, National Guard, Reserve and the Coast Guard), but also included relatives, neighbors, the parents of close friends and even athletic coaches.
One of the letters was sent to the home of Maureen Serrecchia’s grandchildren. Serrecchia is the State Family Program Director, Massachusetts Guard and Reserve Command’s Military and Family Support Center as well as the chairwoman of the Massachusetts Inter-Service Family Assistance Committee; the person who knows what services are available and where to find them.
“She contacted us and said: ‘Here’s what I do and I’d really like to help’ and opened our world up to the military resources that are available,” said Flewelling.
While the military has for years reached out to active-duty service members and their families, the increased use of the National Guard and Reserve in the current conflicts has seen a push to make sure that their families have access to the same services. What makes it a challenge is the fact that Guardsman and Reservists are spread out over a wide geographical area, while their active-duty comrades are usually located on or near their base.
It is the mission of the Massachusetts National Guard and Reserve Command’s Military and Family Support Center, as well as the Massachusetts Inter-Service Family Assistance Committee to act as the conduits for these resources. Every service member, whether they are deploying or just came home from a deployment and their families are exposed to what is available. It does not matter if it is an entire National Guard unit that is deploying together or one lone Reservist who is joining a unit located far away, everyone is exposed to the available services. While military families do use the services that are available, many keep what difficulties they may be experiencing to themselves, so it is hoped that they may open up to people who are, or have gone through the same thing.
“The epiphany for us,” said Flewelling, “is the private sector’s lack of understanding to what the military offers for support and resources.”
It was from this that Fort Beverly was born.
“We started working with them to give them the resources and the tools and some training to her staff,” said Serrecchia.
Fort Beverly is the name of a unique program that Flewelling has started in her school. The program serves as another way families can have access to the available services, as well as enabling the adults get together and be able to share their experiences. But the main focus is still the children.
Twice a week the military-connected students get together with a school adjustment counselor and get to interact with other children who are going what they are going through.
“Our youngest military family members … the children, make the greatest and I mean the greatest sacrifice of all,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, The Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard, who told the crowd at the Woburn Memorial High School. “As we all know, a year in the life of a child is an eternity for an absent parent and an unusual stress that is placed on one who is so, so young,” he said.
As of 2010, there were 8,687 children of military families between the ages of 6-18 living in the commonwealth. It does not include the children of Coast Guard families or those families with an older sibling or relative who may be in the service.
For many children, especially the younger ones, their loved ones going away for up to a year is very scary.
“The biggest issue is loss and separation with the person who is deployed,” said Rogers-Burke. “Why are they leaving me?”
Eventually families settle down into their new way of living, but this is temporary…when the deployed service member comes home, everything changes again.
“Maybe dad leaves his nine-year-old daughter,” said Rogers-Burke, “and comes back to an 11-year-old who’s a pre-teen. That certainly brings up a lot of issues too.”
Fort Beverly also deals with the issues and changes that a homecoming brings as well, including any issues that may arise if the service member was injured while deployed.
Since its inception, Fort Beverly has refined and expanded its program. The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to try to expand the program outside of Beverly. The Woburn public school system has already begun the process of reaching out to its families with military-connected children.
Jennifer Rogers-Burke has left the Beverly school system for a new job in the Lowell public school system and she plans on trying to start Fort Lowell.