A Celebration of Advocacy and Volunteerism

By Coleen Smith, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Kingwood, TX

Together we're stronger

National Military Family Association Volunteers, Representatives, and staff gathered to celebrate 40 years of military family advocacy and to develop their skills at the 2010 Volunteer Training Conference at Sandy Cove Retreat and Conference Center in North East, Maryland this spring. The training conference, which took place from April 12 to 15, 2010, was appropriately titled, “From Your Neighborhood to the Nation’s Leaders: Making a Real Difference for Military Families” and focused on grassroots efforts, research, and skills to better the lives of those who serve.

The remote, peaceful setting allowed the 31 Volunteers, Representatives, and staff who attended to concentrate on absorbing the training offered and expanding their Association networks.

The conference organizers assigned attendees to training paths based on the Member’s relative experience as an Association Volunteer or Representative. While Path A and Path B covered the same material, the presentation styles and pacing differed. Both seasoned and new volunteers appreciated the balance between training content and pace.

The separate paths joined for meals and several common sessions to encourage members to meet, network, and share ideas. Vivian Carrasco, who conducted one of the joint sessions, taught us how to leverage Volunteer Service as part of a professional resume. In addition, to reinforce the importance of mentorship, Vivian then directed us to turn our written goals into “snowballs” and toss our “snowballs” at each other. Mentors and novices were linked by the snowballs they tossed and caught.

Other joint sessions included Joyce Raezer’s presentation “Children on the Homefront” where she brought us up to date with the current research commissioned by the Association and Julia Yeary’s presentation “Zero to Three” that focused on our youngest military family members. Chris Ward presented a new initiative through the Alaska Parent Teacher Association (PTA) that brought together community representatives, providers, and government officials to discuss better ways to support military families in Alaska. A panel of National Military Family Association Directors reinforced the focus on current issues and opened themselves to questions from the Volunteers and Representatives.

Despite the intense conference schedule, Volunteers, Representatives and Staff had the opportunity to take walks along Sandy Cove’s inlet, gather for dinner on the town, and participate in a Centered Being Workshops with Suzie Celentano.  Suzie showed us that it is possible to practice yoga anywhere, even in high heels!
Association training and support is an on-going process: from Christina Jumper’s pre-Conference webinar that described Sandy Cove’s unique setting and expectations to the presentations available at the “Volunteers Only” section our website at www.MilitaryFamily.org. Through the “Volunteers Only” portion of the website, we can also find previously recorded and upcoming webinars to download and review. Lastly, similar to the breakout sessions at the conference, our Field Coordinators provide individual, group, or team training, as well as regular conference calls which are based on a specific topic and may be only for a specific region.

The post training survey showed that the respondents enjoyed the Conference tremendously and that it enhanced their skills as an Association Volunteer or Representative.  According to Franchon Luke, “The snowball is growing. Currently, there is progress with mentoring within the Regions . . . Even at the Conference, you could see the more seasoned Volunteers and Representatives reaching out and sharing their experiences and ideas with our newer Volunteer Corps members.”

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