For some passionate FMA members, the ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the Education and Resiliency Center at Kuhn Hall in November was a momentous accomplishment, but it was also a first step in supporting the wellbeing of the Fort Meade community.
“We talk about the grand opening being the culmination of an 11-year, $5.1-million project but it’s not. It is the beginning of the Fort Meade Alliance’s role in making a full range of resiliency services available,” said Joe Pacileo, FMA President.
“The work is just starting,” said Col. Kenneth McCreedy (Ret.), Chair of the Military and Family Committee. “I learned in my military career that when you create a new institution, organization or platform, it is difficult to foresee where it will go. So, you create mechanisms for people to dream about how it can be used in different ways. I think we have created the processes and climate that will allow the Education and Resiliency Center to meet needs as they are identified or as they emerge.”
A lot of that evolution will involve “bootstrapped resiliency” – the process of connecting with high-quality and highly relevant resiliency services outside the fence line.
“The Department of Defense has faced a lot of budget issues which is all the more reason why partnerships with the community have become more and more important,” McCreedy said. “I think the promise of the Education and Resiliency Center is to create pathways for those kinds of mutual support operations to happen. It creates a place where interaction can happen between the garrison and the community so that we can learn more about resiliency needs and connect to resources that can address them.”
Developing that knowledge of resiliency needs and providing individuals with ready access to appropriate services is a formidable undertaking.
As the spouse of a combat-wounded warrior and a 10-year professional with veteran service nonprofits, Katie Kilby became acutely aware that “there is no real unified effort in this landscape” that enables service members, military families and veterans to learn about and access relevant services in a timely manner.
Currently, there are 46,000 nonprofits in America offering services to veterans and countless other government, nonprofit, for-profit and community-based organizations that serve active military and their families.
“That is overwhelming. A lot of people don’t know where to start so they don’t or they get discouraged and stop seeking help,” said Kilby, who is the founder of the nonprofits Baltimore Military Muster and Reveille Grounds, which work to connect military families and veterans with resiliency services.
Military families, which relocate every two to four years, must find ways to navigate that “sea of goodwill” and quickly, said Yolanda Rayford, Baltimore Chapter Director of Blue Star Families. “Imagine you have just caught a flight in from Japan or driven across the country. You go into lodging and you have two weeks to 45 days, depending on housing availability. You are swamped with information and you are also missing important information as you are trying to quickly settle your kids into their new community” and access everything from permanent housing and schools to extracurricular activities and essential health services.
For the military community, challenges accessing mental health services are especially common and potentially debilitating. Individuals can access lists of local service providers but face numerous obstacles obtaining appropriate care, Kilby said. Eligibility for some services hinges on an individual’s duty status, disability rating or branch of service. Other attractive and available services have waiting lists as long as six months.
“In some cases, the process of trying to find a service provider is triggering and traumatizing,” Kilby said. “If you have to tell your story 10 times, that is additional stress and injury that you have to live through” and prompts many people to stop seeking help.
Consequently, FMA members have been working to provide extensive and trusted information about resiliency services in the region.
“I am very impressed by the FMA’s resiliency portal and kiosk,” said Lisa Terry, Manager of the Howard County Veterans and Military Families Department and a member of the FMA Military and Family Committee. “We worked really hard creating a directory of resources and vetting and categorizing those resources. It’s important to recognize that we all experience stress and emotional panic, but resilience is the ability to bounce back and work through it. We should always be building our resiliency toolbox. If you are proactive and utilize the resources available to you now, you will be better prepared when a crisis or life challenge occurs. In other words, don’t wait until you are stressed to start meditating or working out, make it part of your daily routine.”
The FMA’s efforts have also helped various service providers make connections that have enabled them to enhance their own services.
Impressed by the number of people that attend Military and Family Committee meetings, McCreedy said that “at virtually every meeting, people on and off post make connections that make them more effective in their work. You see people joining forces with organizations that provide similar or complementary services. That’s where magic happens.”
Blue Star Families, for example, organized a reading program at Anne Arundel County public libraries. Because the program’s books focused on the lives of military children, Blue Star Families partnered with Kennedy Krieger to have a counsellor present at each event to address issues and feelings the books triggered.
When it expanded to the Baltimore-Washington region in January 2022, The Headstrong Project partnered with Reveille Grounds and Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center to do targeted outreach to people in need of its services. The nonprofit provides free, best-in-class, mental health care to active military and veterans who are experiencing aftereffects from trauma. It is now serves 80 clients per month in the region.
“Demand for mental health services continues to skyrocket,” said Matt Gryskewicz, Director of Community Engagement-East.
That demand combined with the realities of military funding make the FMA’s resiliency efforts essential to the wellbeing of the Fort Meade community, he said. “Unfortunately, the veteran and military community is underfunded. It really is essential to have public-private partnerships come into play and have government, non-government and other nonprofits work together to create a true collective impact.”