Army Family Covenant Funds SKIES Program
February 21, 2008
SCHINNEN, the Netherlands - "It's a lot harder than it looks," gasped 7th grader Quelon Hopkins, as he skidded to a shaky stop on his snowboard.
It was only his third snowboarding lesson, but he showed real progress. "The first time we came out here, I couldn't even stand up," he joked.
Hopkins is one of 34 students participating in the U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen Child and Youth Services after-school program, the School of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills. Skiing and snowboarding are just two of the latest classes being offered through SKIES, and they're two of the most popular, said Peter Iedema, SKIES director.
Since the program began last year, classes have covered everything from dance to horseback riding, but "snowboarding and skiing have really gotten a lot of participation," Iedema said. One reason: funding from the Army Family Covenant actually makes the class free to some kids.
The Covenant represents a $1.4 billion Army commitment to improve quality of life for military families, especially those experiencing multiple deployments. For military families in the Tri-Border area, this funding means free or significantly discounted services from Schinnen's CYS.
Thanks to Covenant funding, deployed servicemembers receive four free SKIES classes; two free team or individual sport programs; and up to 16 hours of free childcare per month (on a space available basis).
This includes classes and sports programs, such as skiing and snowboarding lessons. In fact, about one fifth of the kids enrolled in the current SKIES skiing/snowboarding classes received free tuition through Covenant funding.
Moreover, there's no limit on the number of family members who can receive these free classes, said Anne Daugherty, deployment readiness coordinator for the garrison's Army Community Services. Take, for example, a family with three kids in SKIES. Covenant funding provides that family more than $500 in skiing and snowboarding lessons.
These benefits begin 30 days before a deployment and continue for 60 days afterwards, noted Daugherty. Extended temporary duty assignments also count for free or discounted childcare, sports benefits and classes under Covenant funding.
"These benefits are almost too good to be true," Daugherty said, "but they are true and they amount to real savings and opportunities for many military families."
With Covenant funding, CYS has also been able to waive its annual $18 registration fee for all participants. "That may not sound like much, but that's money in our pockets," said Julie Rooney, whose Army husband deployed to Afghanistan last fall.
Her two kids enrolled in ski classes for free and plan to continue a second six-week session of ski classes this spring, also for free. This will be their second free SKIES program funded entirely with Covenant money. "We're trying to take full advantage of these opportunities because the financial benefits are significant," she said.
"My husband has been in the Army 30 years, and has deployed several times. Each time we've had support, of course, but this is the first time we've received these kinds of tangible quality of life benefits from the Army," Rooney says.
Rooney thinks this is the kind of thing that really makes a difference for a spouse and family members left behind during deployments - precisely what the Covenant was intended to do. "To coin that old phrase, it shows me that the Army is 'putting its money where its mouth is'," Rooney said, smiling.