Guard Family Volunteers Meet In Saratoga

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Family Readiness Group Participants Learn Best Practices from Experts

Story by: Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo - 42nd Infantry Division Public Affairs
  Dated: Sun, Sep 20, 2009

Guard Family Volunteers Meet In Saratoga
Youth Symposium participants take a break in the action during Saturday’s all-day training event at Shiloh’s Edge high ropes challenge course. Photo by Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo, 42nd Infantry Division

Saratoga Springs, NY--Nearly 200 New York National Guard family readiness volunteers and youth leaders spent the weekend of Sept. 18-20 learning better ways to do their jobs.

“This workshop has been a great opportunity to identify lessons learned and best practices from folks who have been doing this for some time,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Cipolla, Commander of the 204th Engineer Battalion in Buffalo. “It will definitely assist our Family Readiness Group in developing programs to help Soldiers and their families.”

The weekend was designed to train our volunteers in dealing with the stresses of military life and deployments, said Lt. Col. Kelly Hilland, the director of the New York National Guard Family Program.

“The program is designed to enhance the quality of life and assist geographically dispersed military families by providing extensive support throughout the tough times of military life, including mobilization, reintegration and the resulting issues that affect members and their families,” Hilland said.

This is accomplished through an established network of trained volunteers working with Active and Reserve Components; government agencies; employers; veteran & volunteer service organizations, and private businesses in support of all military service members and their families throughout New York State, she explained.

“Our goal is to make our service members and their families resilient by insuring they know about the resources available to them and know how to access those resources,’ she added.

Cipolla and his wife Sue learned a great deal from the workshop about educational opportunities and financial programs available to families of National Guard Soldiers.

“I’m here to learn so I can teach others; and getting contact names and phone numbers to get assistance for family members was very helpful,” Sue Cipolla said. While the adult leaders discussed the program’s finer points, nearly 75 children, ages 5-18, shared a full day of leadership, and team and confidence building at Shiloh’s Edge high and low ropes challenge course in nearby Halfmoon. Shiloh’s Edge is a non-profit organization which uses outdoor activities to enhance the physical, mental, social and spiritual lives of children.

“This was a great opportunity for our kids to challenge themselves and create lasting lifetime friendships and memories,” said Shelly Aiken, NY National Guard Youth Program Director. “They learn to work together and depend on each other, just like their parents do in the National Guard.”

Sixteen year-old Skymarie Kinkle attended the Symposium thinking it was a chance to spend the weekend away from Long Island with her Mom, brother and Stepdad, Private 1st Class Keith Bickmeyer from Co. B, 642nd Aviation Battalion. What she hadn’t planned for was a new experience that would help her overcome her fears.

“It’s all about teamwork and building trust to rely on each other to get through an immense amount of obstacles,” Kinkle said. “It was a lot of fun and I got over my fear of heights.” Since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the deployment of more than 10,000 members of the New York Army and Air National Guard to combat zones, the family program has expanded to include full-time consultants in child welfare and psychology and the establishment of professionally-staffed outreach centers around the state.

Family Readiness Group volunteers, meanwhile, have become an integral part of the Army and Air Guard units they support, maintaining programs that help families cope with the stress of separation during deployments, Hilland said.

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Page Last Modified: Thu, Sep 24, 2009