JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Michelle Jeffers, an Army spouse, knows that getting reestablished on each new installation can be a challenge. Having a son with a severe developmental delay doesn't make it easier.

"It can be really difficult," she said.

Now Army Community Services Exceptional Family Members on Joint Base Lewis-McChord have a jumpstart to the process.

The value of social support networks is well documented. Cultivating close relationships with friends and family, and knowing there are those out there who understand what you're going through, can be critically important in times of stress -- but making and maintaining those connections through the frequent moves of military life can be daunting.

It's something JBLM ACS EFMP employees understand all too well. To help, they've created two groups: a coffee meeting for adult Exceptional Family Members and a playgroup where EFMP families with kids can connect.

"We basically wanted to provide an environment where people can come together and network," EFMP Systems Navigator Jaclyn Gilley said.

Gilley was part of the team that helped get the groups started five months ago. Each one has a meeting once a month -- the playgroup alternates between Raindrops and Rainbows on JBLM Lewis Main and the Escape Zone on McChord Field, while the coffee group meets the first Tuesday of each month at the Battle Bean coffee shop on Lewis Main.

In fact, that monthly gathering is the first organized social time for grown-ups in the program at JBLM.

"A lot of times it can be isolating if you're an adult EFM," Gilley said.

The group is still building a following, but the hope is that adult Exceptional Family Members, who may be experiencing anything from health issues like Multiple Sclerosis to an anxiety disorder, can come together and talk about resources, but also get to know each other. Often, meeting other people who know about their problems firsthand is just as valuable as having the chance to grab a cup of coffee with EFMP employees.

The playgroup is a bit more structured, but has the same idea.

"We keep having families come in that don't know what to do with their children and haven't met people," Gilley said.

Each meeting usually has a quick seminar by representatives from Parent to Parent, an organization that provides emotional and informational support to parents of special needs children, and a story and craft for the kids. At a recent meeting, parents discussed the importance of bedtime routines and kids made reversible signs with daytime and nighttime scenes on them.

For Jeffers, one of the Parent to Parent trainers involved with the playgroup, this is a cause that really means something. Her oldest son, now 13, has a severe developmental delay, and he's one of three kids in the family.

"We've been through all of it," she said.

She knows how great it can be to have the opportunity to catch a few minutes, one-on-one with EFMP staff members for off-the-cuff questions. But more than that, she knows the value of creating a real, live social network.

"The payoff can be worth it, just to have those connections and to have your child be engaged in their community," Jeffers said. Gilley pointed out that both groups can be adapted to meet the needs of participants -- if there's a particular topic people want addressed, or an idea they'd like to try, all they have to do is ask.

The real value, though, is in the interactions that take place.

"It's so important for (special needs kids) to have a place where they can come and just be themselves," Jeffers said.

Page last updated Fri May 18th, 2012 at 00:00