News: Taking care of families one dinner at a time
Story by Gina Randall
ABERDEEN CITY, U.K. - “When a spouse is deployed, it can be very difficult for the family left behind,” said Karen Wilson, 100th Force Support Squadron community readiness consultant from Atoka, Okla.
To help ease that situation, the Airman and Family Readiness Center at RAF Mildenhall facilitates monthly Hearts Apart dinners. The goal of these dinners is to provide support for these families so the deployed service members can focus on the mission, knowing the needs of their families back home are being taken care of.
“Commanders, chiefs and first sergeants from across Team Mildenhall are very supportive of these dinners,” Wilson said. “They go out of their way to attend as many as possible so they can spend time with the spouses and children. They want to make sure everyone is okay and to help take care of any problems as quickly as possible.”
In addition to offering an opportunity for spouses and families to interact with base leaders, another aspect of these dinners is that they enable attendees to meet other families in a similar situation.
“Spouses get a chance to forge friendships with other spouses,” Wilson said. “It could be a spouse from the same unit or squadron, or someone completely new. And key spouses are often in attendance, making sure the spouses and families in their units are able to relax and enjoy the evening.”
“Each deployment is the same, yet different, and the Hearts Apart dinners give spouses the opportunity to mingle and share those experiences to help one another,” said Vicky Forehand, 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron key spouse from Crosby, Minn., and wife of Tech. Sgt. Jimi Forehand, 100th LRS NCO in charge of mobility readiness spares package from Mason City, Iowa.
Each key spouse serves as a representative of all the spouses of a squadron, and each has a direct line to his or her unit’s commander. This enables the key spouses to raise questions and concerns to their leadership, so all the spouses get the information they need to help resolve any problems they’re working through.
One common problem many families of deployed service members deal with is childcare.
“Many spouses are able to connect with others during these dinners, and they end up helping one another out – watching each other’s children or setting up play dates,” Wilson said.
The dinners themselves serve as a great playtime for the children of deployed parents.
"Hearts Apart dinners give children the chance to get out and have fun with other kids and make new friends (with other children) who are going through the same experience," Vicky Forehand said.
Each month, one unit or squadron volunteers to host the Hearts Apart dinner. The A&FRC provides $200 a month to help cover the cost of each dinner, but if the total cost is more than that amount, the host unit is responsible for supplying the difference. Often, this is taken care of thanks to the generosity of nonprofit organizations, fundraisers and booster clubs.
“These dinners have been going on for as long as I can remember and they are worth every penny,” Wilson said. “I hope that we can continue to provide these types of events for as long as we have service members deploying.”
The dinners are free for families of deployed service members, and typically each dinner can accommodate up to 100 people. Each dinner takes place at a different location each month, and each is planned around a theme, influencing the food and activities offered at the event.
“Traditionally the fire department will host the Halloween Hearts Apart dinner,” Wilson said. “The kids, and some parents, come in their best costumes and get to trick or treat! Everyone laughs and has a great time.
“My hope is that these dinners continue to reach more families and those we help, in even the littlest way, to make the separation during deployment easier,” Wilson said.
The June 2013 Hearts Apart dinner is themed, “Heroes Deployed, Superheroes at Home” and takes place June 12, the RAF Mildenhall Bowling Center.
For more information on the Hearts Apart dinners or other family services, call the A&FRC at DSN 238-3406, or commercial 01638-543406.