This week we’d like to feature a guest post from BHMC State Coordinator in Maryland, Joy Ashcraft.
Joy Ashcraft is the Maryland State Coordinator for the Building Healthy Military Communities pilot program. She is a Maryland native and has spent the past 12 years working alongside and in support of service members, veterans, and their families in her roles as a Social Worker, Senior Family Readiness Support Assistant, Security Director, and Volunteer.
During her nine years of working in the security realm, her teams vetted and managed over 7,000 interpreters and translators for military operations in US Africa, Central, and Southern Commands, as well as, role players for National Training Center operations. In addition, she provided subject matter expertise, production, and graphic design support for several large scale proposal efforts and trained security officers from other companies.
Joy left the security field to pursue a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Southern California where she specialized in Community Organization, Planning and Administration and minored in Military Social Work. She interned at both the Washington Cancer Institute and Hope For The Warriors, where she developed and strengthened new and existing military-connected and business partnerships. Joy is a Licensed Graduate Social Worker in Maryland. She is passionate about supporting this community and truly enjoys connecting them with outdoors, arts, wellness, and service opportunities.
Can you briefly talk about what Building Healthy Military Communities program is working on in Maryland? What can we expect to see in the next year?
We recently hosted a statewide service provider conference called “Building Collaborative Communities in Maryland: A Conference for Those Who Serve Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families.” It was a joint initiative of Building Healthy Military Communities, Maryland’s Commitment to Veterans, Maryland National Guard Family Readiness Program, and the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs. The one-day conference focused on providing service providers the opportunity to connect and improve communication and collaboration with other organizations in Maryland and showcasing local best practices. The conference was centered around three panel discussions showcasing organizations that have collaborated across service sectors in the areas of behavioral health, honoring this population, and outdoor opportunities. It included a resource fair that enabled organizations to connect directly with service-connected organizations such as Maryland National Guard Family Readiness Programs, Fleet & Family Support, and Veterans Affairs. Guest speakers were MD Secretary of Veterans Affairs, George Owings and MD Secretary of Health & Mental Hygiene, Dennis Schrader. The keynote speaker was CAPT Kimberly Elenberg (USPHS), Director of Operation Live Well from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness. One hundred and fifty individuals representing 103 government, VSOs, military-connected, and non-profit organizations, as well as, private business organizations, schools, and libraries participated.
This conference was well-received by the community and has led to many requests for “continuing what was started at the conference”, so we are working together to do just that. In order to continue the momentum, we are currently in the process of planning five regional roundtables to provide communities the opportunity to discuss the challenges to collaborate and continue to build connections. As well, we are starting the process of planning for the second annual conference that will include breakout sessions focusing on the “how to” of community capacity building to assist individuals and organizations in different stages of the process.
I am also working with representatives from Active, Reserve, and Guard family programs offices to organize three multi-branch wellness events with the first one being held in November. These events will not be the standard resource fair style, but will be more festival style with activity-based programming. We are exploring having healthy cooking demos with regional and seasonal flair, yoga and/or exercise mini-classes, mindfulness how-to, and many other activities for the whole family. These events will be about looking at Total Force Fitness in a fun, meaningful, family-oriented way and supporting our military families in their local communities.
Can you talk about some of the challenges facing BHMC in Maryland?
The biggest challenge, like most organizations, is manpower. There is only one BHMC coordinator for each of the seven states. As Lynn Brannon from Florida stated in a previous blog, “a ‘boots on ground’ force multiplier in training, organizing events and community partnerships, recruiting new service providers and holding seminars that our Service Members and their Families can take part in” is needed. There is great interest from the service provider and military family communities for a forum to exist where they can be connected with one another to increase knowledge and opportunities. It is very challenging trying to connect with everyone and provide support even in the smallest of the seven BHMC states.
Who has the most to gain from the BHMC program in your state?
Each of the military service branches have the most to gain from this program. With over 70% of Service Members not living on an installation, this type of wellness program is needed to address readiness and retention concerns. Total Force Fitness is more than just the physical fitness of Service Members – it also incorporates environmental, medical/dental, nutritional, spiritual, psychological, behavioral, and social fitness for Service Members and their Families. In order for Soldiers, Airmen, Seamen, and Marines to do the jobs they are called upon to do, they need to be confident that their families are being taken care of and thriving. When the families are healthy and feel supported, Service Members re-enlist thereby continuing force strength. These families also become role models for new enlistments in the community which supports the need for increasing force strength under the new administration.
What type of collaboration is taking place between the Cooperative Extension System and Building Healthy Military Communities in Maryland? How do you see this partnership developing in the future?
I had the opportunity to attend the 2017 National Health Outreach Conference in May that was held in Annapolis. I was able to meet Cooperative Extension representatives from across the United States and learn about the multitude of collaborative programing that is taking place. It was very eye opening. I see growing this partnership on the county level in order to support one another in regional programming as I feel that we have a great deal to offer one another.
How can military family service professionals, non-profits, or other local organizations get involved with BHMC?
The easiest way is to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and register your organization as a service provider on the Service Provider Network (SPN) at https://www.jointservicessupport.org/spn. The SPN is an excellent referral tool for your organization and can assist with your mission to connect with our Service members, veterans, and their families who require help with responding to all sorts of challenges brought on by serving our country.
Opportunities range from joining the monthly newsletter distribution list to participating in one of the regional roundtable discussion groups or community wellness events to participating in the 2nd annual statewide provider conference. I welcome the opportunity to learn more about the organizations across the state so that I can share their information, as well as, support them in their endeavors. If you are not sure how you can best be involved, then let’s start with a conversation. The possibilities are endless.
Is there anything else you’d like our listeners to know?
The families of Service Members serve too. So when you are thanking a Soldier, Airman, Seaman, or Marine for their service, remember to thank their mother, father, sister, brother, spouse, and children too. Better yet, join or even start community efforts to improve the “whole body” wellness of our Military Families. Everyone can make a difference.