Blue Star Families’ Programs Empower, Strengthen and Connect

Blue Star Families’ Programs Empower, Strengthen and Connect
By Dawn Klavon

Being the child of a member of the military isn’t easy when you consider frequent moves, making new friends and having at least one parent gone on deployments for months at a time.

April is the month of the military child, a time to recognize the unique circumstances of children whose parent(s) serve in the US armed forces. Blue Star Families (BSF), a 501(c)-3 non-profit organization, works to empower families to thrive as the parents serve. The group is committed to strengthening military families by connecting them with neighbors to create vibrant communities of mutual support.

“Blue Star Families is a huge advocate for children in helping them adapt to hard situations and build resiliency. They offer many programs that are sponsored by local businesses that do two things: provide resources for the kids, but also help the community understand and support the challenges of military families.”  
- Heather Walrath, a military spouse whose family has participated in numerous BSF events 

Walrath touted uplifting BSF events like book giveaways, stress management sessions for kids, story times, outdoor adventures and tours.

“All of these activities help connect military families to each other and their communities." - Walrath

Other members agree that BSF fortifies military families. One way to do this is through hosting events during Blue Star Welcome Week. This week-long period, during which time military children transition to their new homes, is a pivotal time for community engagement. BSF also hosts Blue Star Summers to support military children by providing activities during the summer school break.

“One of my favorite benefits they provide for military children is Blue Star Museums, where they collaborate with other organizations to provide free admission for military families to museums across the country,” - Lesley Rose, BSF member

Blue Star’s Start
BSF was founded by military spouses in 2009 to empower families to thrive as they serve. The organization is committed to strengthening military families by connecting them with their neighbors – individuals and organizations – to create vibrant communities of mutual support. The founders believed we're all stronger when we take care of one another.

“We like to do things that help people make military life enjoyable and so they enjoy the areas where they are stationed and get to know the people they’re being stationed with. We really do try to make military life not quite so hard.” - Julie Riggs, acting executive director for the BSF National Capital Region 

BSF’s groundbreaking research is raising the nation's awareness of the unique challenges of military family life. The organization helps military families overcome isolation and alienation of frequent moves, deployments and reduced support from the government. Their innovative programs are solving specific challenges for military families, including fighting economic insecurity with resources that foster spouse career development, creating family strength with rich family programming and providing critical peer support for caregivers, whose numbers are only increasing.

“Our mission over the next five years, 10 years, is to have a chapter in every state and that way, we can have a presence — boots on the ground — in communities serving our military families,” - Riggs

With more than 230,000 members in the BSF network in chapters and communities globally, the group touches more than 1.5 million military families each year. Connecting military families is one of their specialties. In the National Capital Region chapter, there are more than 15,000 members.



“When we moved to DC, it was a very different community than we had experienced in our 20 years with the military. In the National Capital Region, people are very spread out with regards to where they live and don’t have the close-knit military community that you have when you live on an installation or when you are part of a squadron. BSF provides that link to unite military families and to provide support for situations that are unique to the military lifestyle and a way for local communities to connect with military communities. Without BSF, I don’t think we would have felt as connected to others in the National Capital [Region] area.” - Walrath

Through comprehensive research and program partnerships, BSF ensures that wherever American military families go, they can always feel connected, supported and empowered to thrive in every community, across the nation and around the globe.

“Our military members are brave volunteers who give so much in their service of protecting our freedom. I believe their families, however, are the unsung heroes. Military families give so much and it's wonderful that an organization like Blue Star Families exists to focus on supporting their needs."  - Rose

Strength Through Community
Frequent moves and deployments make it challenging for military families to set down roots, make friends, find new employment and take care of their families. Blue Star Families helps military families overcome these challenges and thrive in their communities as they serve.

Equity and inclusion are additional priorities of the group. Riggs points out that the organization is working to increase the representation of all military families of all races, ethnicities and identities.

“We want to be representing families as they appear in our actual military, which, as you know, is [a] very, very diverse population of people,” - Riggs 

BSF offers programs that enhance family life, help spouses find jobs, provide caregivers with essential peer support and connect families with their civilian neighbors to build strong communities.

“[BSF] connects military families from all branches with each other, but also with the communities in which they serve. BSF also conducts lifestyle surveys for families and is a huge advocate for policy initiatives and legislation that improve the quality of life for military families.” - Walrath

Get Involved!
Many BSF volunteer opportunities exist.

“I am in the process of signing up as a BSF volunteer with the goal of hosting a monthly play date at a park in Northern Virginia so local military-affiliated parents can meet up in order to hopefully make friends and support one another,” - Rose

BSF offers incredible military family-centered opportunities like White House tours, a Thanksgiving dinner theater, river cleanup events, area tours, outdoor events, virtual classes and webinars. Participants in these activities encourage other military families to expand their community and join.

“Get involved! Many military families limit themselves to resources provided by the installation they are assigned to and don’t look outside their branch,” - Walrath

By participating in BSF activities, military families can obtain additional resources, broaden their circle of friends and connect in special online communities to meet others who are caregivers, to assist with career-broadening and to volunteer.

“Blue Star Families hosts so many fun events to get us connected with each other and our new neighbors! Come out and participate!” - Rose.
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