By Erin O'Connor
WESTFIELD - At the Greater Westfield Boys and Girls Club on Feb. 15, members of Western MA's Operation Military Kids (OMK) discussed strategy for their upcoming year after receiving word that their funding will be continued.
OMK was founded ten years ago through the 4-H and is funded by the U.S. Army to support "suddenly military" children, children who have parents that are mobilized for military. "They're home [soldiers], they're gone, it is so tough on military families," Sandy Wakefield, Army spokesperson for the Family Support Program at Barnes Air National Guard Base, said.
Gretchen May of the University of Massachusetts and coordinator for OMK said she has been acquiring a list of organizations that assist families when a member is deployed for the military.
Bill Parks, the director for the Boys and Girls Club, said the Club would help OMK by collecting donations for OMK members and organizing a resource list for participants.
"[A list] of areas and things to call if you have food problems, oil problems, calling the school if a child's parent is suddenly deployed," Parks said. "These are the necessities to know if you are deployed to know what is available to you. If someone is saying 'Oh my God what am I going to do' and then they look at that."
Resources that OMK offers include "Ready, Set, Go! Workshops" that train members of the community about the military culture and the deployment cycle effects on kids; homecoming and how to deal with stress. The workshops are offered by appointment and can be scheduled to last between one to six hours. More information about OMK and training can be found at www.operationmilitarykids.org.
Other programs offered include "heropacks." These are backpacks stuffed with donated items for children of the OMK and "Speak-outs" where civilian and military youths discuss varieties of topics in a forum.
In addition, OMK works with many national and statewide nonprofit agencies to provide further needed support to military children and families with deployed family members.