ACS keeps focus on Soldiers and families
January 16, 2009
Redstone Arsenal families - whether they live on post or not, whether they include a Soldier or Army civilian, or whether they are transferring in or out of the area - are the top priority of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Army Community Service.
As the ACS staff and volunteers prepare for the opportunities and challenges of 2009, they are working with a growing number of families that span the entire spectrum from the young enlisted Soldier to the retiree.
"We feel confident that we have created a friendly environment at ACS and that people feel comfortable coming to us if they have any kind of problem or need information," ACS division chief Sue Paddock said. "We are available for anyone associated with the Arsenal. All of the ACS staff is dedicated to going the extra mile for families. If ACS can't help them, we know where to look in the community to get them the help they need. We have a lot of strong partnerships with agencies and organizations in the area who want to help Arsenal families."
The year 2008 was a banner year for ACS with the focal point being the Army Family Covenant, which re-emphasized the Army's commitment to providing military families with a strong, supportive environment both within their assigned military installation and within the communities where installations are located. In 2009, ACS will continue to reach out to address Soldier and family needs while also preparing for its fourth accreditation process.
"We've had a very productive year," Paddock said. "As a result of the Army Family Covenant, our efforts are even more vital to the well-being and readiness of our Soldiers and their families.
"There have been so many changes in ACS since I came here in 1987 because of standardizations in the organization, and now because of the family covenant and the deployments of Soldiers and civilians. The establishment of rules and regulations we work under have given ACS more credibility with military families while the family covenant has played a big part in taking ACS to a higher level of service and making what we do more visible."
Supporting families when there is a deployment - either of a Soldier or a civilian - is a key part of what ACS does every day. That support comes in the form of child care support, parenting support groups, family advocacy programs, financial assistance, equipment loan closet, computer classes, deployment and return ceremonies, and community resource information, among other services.
Yet, many of those services - including the loan closet, family advocacy programs, financial assistance, computer classes and community resource information - are also available to all Soldiers and civilians who are part of the Redstone Arsenal community. Those services are expanded or updated depending on comments ACS receives from its customers.
"Customer service is a big deal with us," Paddock said. "We use to do our own personal feedback survey. This year, the Garrison implemented ICE (Interactive Customer Evaluation system that allows customers to provide feedback via a web page). When they did that, we started receiving a lot more feedback. The system allows us to track customer feedback, which, so far, has been very positive."
In 2009, ACS will continue to enhance its programs in support of families. One such program will be the new Community Redstone Arsenal Family Readiness Group.
"This post-wide group will meet quarterly. The intent is to get our arms around deployed families - military and civilian - from the Redstone Arsenal work force so that we can offer them support," Paddock said. "The group will include representatives from each organization on post who will receive training and who will help us identify who is deployed. We want to be able to reach out through this group and let them know we are available if they need anything."
Another new ACS program is a parent support group for military families.
"We've hired a nurse who does actual home visits to homes where there are children under the age of 3," Paddock said. "For those families having babies, she delivers baby bundles and new presents to the parents. She also oversees our ChildWise play mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays."
In 2009, the Family Advocacy Program will increase its offerings of training classes, including marriage enrichment, parenting school-age children, preventing teen date violence and stress management.
"One of our Family Advocacy classes - the Sexual Assault Prevention Response Program - became more visible this past year, and we are seeing more tenant agencies and units participating in this program," Paddock said. "We are training more Soldier advocates within units who can work with Soldiers in preventing sexual assault and in assisting when there is a sexual assault."
ACS will also continue to introduce new Soldier family members to Army life and prepare them for possible deployments through its Army Family Team Building program. ACS also continues to manage the Arsenal's involvement in the Army Family Action Plan, and to assist families who are moving due to the base realignment and closure program.
"We've been sending welcome packages to families coming to Huntsville because of BRAC and we continue to hold newcomer briefings," Paddock said. "This activity will increase in the new year."
During 2008, ACS's Army Emergency Relief program, which provides financial assistance to Soldiers and Soldier families experiencing financial difficulties, surpassed all goals in the amount of funds raised for the program. A total of $292,120 was raised for AER assistance.
"It amazes me how much support we get with this effort in the Redstone Arsenal community. It's a total team effort," Paddock said.
That money will be used throughout 2009 to assist Soldiers and their families, she said. ACS continues to also offer financial management training and will host a series of lunchtime Financial Matters workshops with Regions Bank in 2009. Another program to assist with family finances will be the Job Fair in February that is geared toward military spouses and retirees.
Two of ACS's kid-friendly programs - its Space Camp Scholarship Program and its Special Olympics program - will also grow in 2009.
"We received 44 applicants in 2009 for the Space Camp Scholarship Program. We awarded only 15 Space Camp scholarships. We really want to be able to increase the number of scholarships in 2009," Paddock said.
"We also want to expand our Special Olympics bowling program on Redstone Arsenal to include more schools."
And ACS will continue to provide registration and staff support for Operation Christmas Bear, which is a holiday party for the children of deployed Soldiers and civilians.
"That program is a wonderful way for us to bring joy to the children of deployed Soldiers and civilians. It's also a wonderful way for us to identify family members of those who are deployed from our area so that we can add them to our waiting spouses list and provide them with the support they need," Paddock said. "It's a real challenge to identify those families."
A year at ACS wouldn't be complete without the organization recognizing Arsenal volunteers. In 2008, ACS changed the annual Redstone Arsenal volunteer luncheon by adopting a Helping Hands awards program that recognizes many volunteers working in Arsenal organizations.
"Instead of the Volunteer of the Year award, we are now recognizing volunteers from throughout Redstone Arsenal," Paddock said. "This change gave us a chance to honor more volunteers who are making a difference on the Arsenal. Our volunteers are very important in helping us with our mission."
ACS also changed the date of its annual open house in 2008, moving it from the Soldier of the Year luncheon date during Armed Forces Week to a day later in the week that had less planned activities.
"We will keep that change in 2009 because we had a lot more people this past year who had never come in to ACS before," Paddock said. "It really helped to increase awareness. We enlightened a lot of people for the first time about ACS services and we also highlighted our accomplishments of the year."
ACS programs are managed by 12 staff members with the assistance of about 20 volunteers.
"Volunteers are very important to our small staff," Paddock said. "They help with the front desk. They help program managers with day-to-day activities. They help us with special events. We couldn't do this mission without them."
One aspect of the ACS mission that both staff and volunteers will be involved with in 2009 will be the organization's fourth reaccreditation inspection. ACS is inspected every three years to ensure it complies with Army guidelines.
"It's a very lengthy process to make sure standards are being met," Paddock said. "We've passed all three times with commendation.
"We've always been proactive and done well with the accreditations. But they do keep changing the standards and making it harder to pass. That's the challenge but I'm sure we will do well because accreditation is a day-to-day process. If you do everything regulations tell you to do every day, then every day you are living those regulations and you're running the organization the way it should be run."
No matter what is planned for 2009, Paddock said ACS is an organization that is continually evolving to meet the needs of the Arsenal's Soldiers and civilians, and their families.
"Every day is a challenge at ACS because you never know what additional issues or situations we will need to address," she said. "With everything going on in the world, there are a lot of ways ACS can provide support to Arsenal families. And there are a lot of changes and regulations we have to keep up with. But that's what makes this job interesting. All of us here like being able to take care of the total Army family. Helping families is what makes this job so special."
Editor's note: For more information about ACS, visit its office in building 3338 on Redeye Road or call 876-5397. The ACS office is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.