Time Needed: One or More Days
Skills Needed: No special skills required
Causes: Veterans & Military Families
Project Categories: Family Friendly
Create the Good®
There were more than 1.3 million active-duty U.S. military members in 2022, serving and protecting the nation, according to the Department of Defense. In March 2021, the Stimson Center reported that more than 170,000 active-duty members were deployed overseas. During their deployments, military members may leave behind spouses, children, and parents who must maintain life as usual while their loved ones are away.
Even if they are not deployed, military families may face various challenges. Military families typically move an average of every two to three years, according to the Military Family Advisory Network. As a result, they may be left to settle into their new communities without the support of local family and friends. And because they may be new in town or on their own, finding the services and resources they need may be particularly challenging. Simply locating childcare, registering children for school, scheduling doctor appointments, and maintaining a home may require hours of research and coordination. These challenges are compounded when a spouse is deployed. In many instances, it can be just as stressful when a spouse returns from deployment, especially if that person has been injured.
How you can help
Military families that are settling into new homes and communities have many needs that can be met by volunteers who may be able to help with errands, locate service providers, assist with household tasks, or prepare meals. Volunteers can also be a resource to find others in the community who can provide support.
Military members and their families make tremendous sacrifices as they serve our country. Your support lets them know how much their service is appreciated. Members of the military represent the leaders of the next generation. By supporting them we are encouraging them to continue their service—eventually outside the military, in our communities.
The Basic Steps
Take a grassroots approach and follow these steps to volunteer in your community. This guide contains both informal and more structured opportunities to work with organizations that have strong track records of helping military families.
Step 1: Get Started
Although military populations vary from community to community, there are countless ways to connect with military families in your hometown. First, check in with local veterans’ service organizations. Or, if you live near a military or guard base, contact the base’s Family Resource Center.
Other ways to find out if there are military families who may need help in your town include asking neighbors, school counselors, faith-based groups, and other community/fraternal organizations like Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions Clubs. So, reach out to your network, and you may find opportunities nearby.
One way to help your new friends feel more comfortable is to educate yourself about military culture (see below for more information) and make sure you understand the different branches of service.
Step 2: Follow Program Protocol
In some cases, the programs offered will have training programs or guidelines to help you provide the services needed or wanted in the most effective way. In other cases, you may find informal opportunities to help. Sometimes, just being a friendly face may help more than you know. There are many organizations that offer specific support to military families. Find some of them below in the section Resources for Connecting with Military Families.
Once you’ve committed to helping, be sure to follow up—and follow through on any offers of help that you’ve made. For example, you might offer to help them find childcare or pick up something at the grocery store while you are out shopping.
Since various branches of the military may emphasize service, sacrifice, and bravery in the face of adversity, some service members and their families may not feel comfortable asking for help. Keep in mind that simply listening can have a valuable impact on the emotional well-being of the family member. Everyone wants and needs to be heard.
Step 3: Spread the Word
Encourage others to get involved and help military families. In the Supplemental Materials section below, you’ll find a flyer that you can download, print, and distribute to encourage people to give time to help military families.
Learn about Military Culture
Challenges Military Families Face
Resources for Connecting with Military Families
Although military populations vary from community to community, there are countless ways to connect with military families in your hometown. If you live near a military base, contact the base’s Family Resource Center. School counselors, churches, synagogues and religious institutions and other community/fraternal organizations like Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions Clubs may also be able to direct you to military families. The organizations listed below will assist volunteers who would like to help military families or will help volunteers to direct military families to new organizations that can help them.
Check out these programs to see how you can best contribute your time and talent.
Air Force Aid Society
From childcare to parenting classes and even helping keep your vehicle in order, the Air Force Aid Society provides solutions to the challenges that come with active-duty Air Force life and provides targeted community programs to help make life a little easier. Programs vary between installations, so visit the Family Readiness Center at your local base to find out about the programs offered.
With nearly 2 million members in close to 12,000 American Legion posts around the world, the American Legion’s local posts assist veterans and their family members to file benefits claims and represent veterans denied benefits to which they feel they are entitled. The American Legion also offer career services, scholarship assistance, a family support network, and more.
American Red Cross
The nation’s premier emergency response organization aids victims of devastating natural disasters and aims to prevent and relieve suffering. They also support and comfort military members and their families; collect, process and distribute lifesaving blood and blood products; and have a deep history in helping military members and their families.
Armed Services YMCA
This independent, national nonprofit provides support services to military service members, with a particular focus on junior enlisted personnel and their families. Services include childcare, hospital assistance, spouse support services, food services, holiday meals, and more.
Blue Star Families
Blue Star Families aims to raise awareness among civilians of the challenges of military life. The organization was formed in December 2008 by a group of military spouses and now includes spouses and families from all services, as well as veterans and civilians. Volunteer opportunities range from helping out with local chapter events to posting on social media to raise awareness to presenting certificates of appreciation.
Give an Hour
This national nonprofit organization provides free mental health services to members of the military, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, their families, and their communities. Currently, there are approximately 4,000 licensed mental health professionals volunteering their time on the Give an Hour network.
Institute for Veterans and Military Families
Founded a decade ago at Syracuse University, this unique public-private partnership delivers innovative programs in career, vocations, and entrepreneurship to post-9/11 veterans and active-duty military spouses. The IVMF also works with communities and non-profits across the nation to enhance service delivery for veterans. Since it was created in 2007, IVMF has served more than 192,000 service members transitioning to civilian life and their families. The organization accepts volunteers who can assist with its specific focus areas.
Make the Connection
This website connects veterans and their friends and family members by providing information, resources, and solutions to issues that affect veterans’ health and everyday lives. In addition to support, Make The Connection allows for shared experiences in the words of veterans.
The program’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for military members, their families, and their communities. The program includes both a call center and a website and is available 24-hours-per-day to provide information, resources, and referrals to help with every aspect of military life. The organization can also connect volunteers to opportunities at their local base.
National Military Family Association
A leading advocate for improvements in the quality of military family life, the National Military Family Association educates military families about their rights, benefits, and available services. The association also provides information about the issues that affect their lives and promotes and protects their interests by influencing the development and implementation of legislation and policies.
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
This society partners with the Navy and Marine Corps to provide financial, educational, and other assistance to service members and their eligible family members and survivors, when in need. Eligible recipients receive interest-free loans for emergencies or educational purposes and needs-based scholarships. The society also offers budget counseling services, thrift shops, and visiting nurse services and relies heavily on volunteers to provide its services
This national nonprofit organization provides relief and recurring support to our troops, to the families they leave behind, and to wounded warriors when they return home. Operation Homefront’s programs range from assisting children of military members with school supplies to helping military families find permanent housing.
With volunteers in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and 30 countries abroad, this international nonprofit’s goal is to provide aid, comfort, and resources to military members, veterans, and their families. The organization provides food and support services for active-duty military members, veterans, wounded warriors, and military families. Volunteer opportunities are both virtual and in-person.
United States Department of Veterans Affairs
The VA’s goal is to provide excellence in patient care, veterans’ benefits, and customer satisfaction. This federal department offers a wide variety of services, including disability compensation, health programs, and housing services through nearly 1,300 facilities nationwide. If you’re interested in volunteering, complete a volunteer form at www.volunteer.va.gov and a local VA representative will contact you.
Veterans Crisis Line
Veterans in crisis and those who are concerned about them can connect with the Veterans Crisis Line to reach caring, qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs, many of whom are veterans themselves. The 24-hour, confidential support line can be accessed by dialing 988 and then pressing 1. To volunteer with 988, visit https://988lifeline.org/participate/.
A nonprofit charitable corporation that provides morale, welfare, and recreation-type services to uniformed military personnel and their families. The USO has many opportunities to get involved, including gathering to cheer military members at homecomings, helping out at events, or simply being a good listener.
Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)
The VFW, with its auxiliaries, includes 1.6 million members in approximately 6,200 posts worldwide. Their mission is to “honor the dead by helping the living” through veterans’ service, community service, national security and a strong national defense. They helped to establish the VA; created a GI bill for the 20th century, and developed the national cemetery system, and also fought to improve VA medical center services for women veterans. Visit the organization’s website to connect with a local chapter and find volunteer opportunities.
Flyer to Promote Helping Military Families: Print this flyer and share it with others in your community to encourage them to get involved in helping military members and their families.