By Ms. Lacey Justinger (USAG Hawaii)July 21, 2008
FORT BLISS, Texas - Fort Bliss Child and Youth Services is using Army Family and Community Covenant funding to expand programs and facilities as well as build partnerships within the El Paso community.
"Fort Bliss and El Paso have forged great community partnerships already," said Pat Smith, Fort Bliss Child and Youth Services coordinator. "We are hoping that if the community is more aware of stressors our families have, they will be more willing to work with the Families."
One aspect of financial support is that childcare is provided for Families of Soldiers who are deployed off the installation for longer than six weeks. When they need to use the programs, they are provided at no cost, as long as the time is within the Families' allotted hours. If a Family of a deployed Soldier goes over their monthly hours, they can receive child care at a reduced cost of almost half price.
"If we want to keep Soldiers, then we have to keep and provide for Families," said Smith. "The Army has always emphasized that we want quality for our Soldiers and we (at Fort Bliss) want to be the role model for the nation. We certainly want it for our Soldiers for what they do for our nation."
CYS has also begun construction for eight new Fort Bliss facilities. With triple the amount of children expected with the BRAC expansion, three child development centers, three school age services, and two middle school and teen services will be built to join the six CYS facilities currently located at Fort Bliss.
"Constructing facilities takes time and even with that, we know we are not going to meet all the child care needs at Fort Bliss," said Smith. She said the CYS recognizes that not all military Families are able to use post services due to classroom size limitations and facility locations. Since many Families live and work off post; they would rather take advantage of what is being offered in the community than drive on post for child care and then drive back to work.
"We will forge partnerships with those organizations and people providing those services so there are quality options off post as well," said Smith. "We depend on the community. The Army can't do it all. Plus, we want Soldiers to be part of the community while living in the community."
So the Army has built partnerships off post with community organizations that are highly impacted by the neighborhood military population like day care facilities, after-school programs, public schools and programs like the YWCA and Boys and Girls Clubs. These plans are created to ensure military families pay an equal amount for child care programs either on post or off.
"We want something for our youth to be involved in and to have the same activities they would have in a normal community," she said. "Children need to be engaged in positive activities."
CYS plans to expand its influence and support of neighborhood child care centers and schools. Liaisons are working to emphasize the commitments and lifestyles of the military Families and Soldiers to the community in which they live and work, as well as exposing the community to the additional military pressures these Families face, which include multiple deployments and limited extended family in the area.
"It's also important for young military children to understand and have a sense of pride in their Families," said Ann Ogle, the assistant director of the Fort Bliss Main Child Development Center.
Because of the covenant, the CYS facilities were able to expand their hours and reduce costs. Covenant funding assisted programs like free, Family-orientated activities on Saturdays; homework assistance for school-age children; transportation for school-age children from schools surrounding Fort Bliss; and additional youth classes in ballet, guitar, singing, piano and sports.
School liaison positions working with the public schools also were subsidized to make the transition of military children smoother. Extra computer labs were funded and pre-kindergarten initiatives were financed to make the programs equivalent to public school programs.
"We want programs geared towards children of the military," Smith said. "We have always worked with the public schools, but the covenant puts more emphasis on it. It's helping us to say that this is really important."