By Jeanne Melton, The Wheel assistant editorNovember 10, 2008
It was one year ago Oct. 29 that senior leaders, along with Soldiers and family members from the Fort Eustis community gathered for the official signing of the Army Family Covenant.
During the signing ceremony, then post commander Brig. Gen. Jim Chambers spelled out four near-term objectives that were intended to be quick wins to show the Eustis community the commitment to improve the quality of life for Soldiers and their families. The four near-term objectives were free shuttle service, free movies on Saturdays at Jacobs Theater, free access to the outdoor pools during the summer swimming season, and increased recreational organized sports leagues for children.
The four near-term objectives have been implemented since about December 2007. These near-term objectives were met with a great response.
According to the numbers received from Bill Franssen, Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation director, the free shuttle service, which runs five days a week, Tuesday through Sunday, averages approximately 350 people per week. The free movies at the theater have had an overwhelming response with more than 100 people enjoying free movies on any given Saturday. Depending on the movie showing, some Saturdays have even seen more than 400 people. During the hot summer months of the swimming season from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, more than 12,000 people took advantage of free access to the outdoor pools to cool off during those summer days. There is also now free swimming at the aquatic center Wednesdays from 3 to 7 p.m.
Franssen said that Eustis has services DFMWR has added locally that other installations aren't offering, like free shuttle service. Some of the other opportunities being offered here are free dinners for families of deployed Soldiers on Friday nights at the Eustis Club, $10 off daily green fees or $10 off private golf lessons at the Pines Golf Course and $1 off regular bowling rates at the Fort Eustis Bowling Center.
"We've taken care of the families given financial constraints, but there is nothing to good for the families of our deployed Soldiers. They are the ones that have to keep the home fires burning while their spouse is over there, and that's a tough job," said Franssen.
The fourth objective, team sports for children, was met last fall through an Army-wide initiative. Children of mission level one personnel have had the activities fees waived for two team sports per year, and children of mission levels two and three personnel have the fee waived for one team sport per year.
Suzanne Sutton, outreach director, recapped on all the available services to children of deployed Soldiers and Department of Defense civilians that are free or available at a reduced rate.
Child, Youth and School Services continues to offer free annual registration for all families. Children of deployed Soldiers and DoD civilians receive a 20 percent reduction of monthly fees for full or regular part-time care in both the Child Development Center and School Age Services programs. For children of Wounded Warriors, the rate will be reduced to the category of the Army CYSS fee policy rate.
Children of mission level one personnel receive the first eight weeks of each instructional class they attend free. There is a limit of eight free weeks per child and four individual programs each year.
The children of mission level two and three personnel receive the first four weeks of each instructional class they attend free. The limit is four free weeks per child and two individual programs each year. Regular prices will apply to additional weeks and class space may be limited.
Children of mission level one and two personnel, and Wounded Warriors families are eligible for 16 hours of free care per month. After the 16 hours are used the cost is only $2 an hour per child.
For mission level three personnel, five hours of free hourly care will be provided per month and the $2 an hour cost will apply after that. Normal reservation processes apply for all childcare needs.
The Child Development Center continues to provide extended hourly care on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Children of mission level one, two and three personnel along with Wounded Warriors can use this care for free, but it will be counted towards the monthly allowed limit of 16 hours or five hours allowed, which ever applies, then the $2 per hour rate will apply there after. The regular hourly rate will apply to all others.
The third Wednesday night of each month the CDC also continues to provide child care from 6:15 to 8:15 p.m. for units to conduct Family Readiness Group meetings. Reservations must be made by close of business the previous Friday.
Sutton said that as of the beginning of October, the CDC is now open every Saturday of the month, which is an expansion of services. They are open from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. for mission level one, two and three personnel, and Wounded Warriors. This does count towards the 16 hours or five hours of free care per month and the regular hourly rate will apply to all others.
School Age Services will open the second and fourth Saturday of each month for all school age children in an open recreation style program from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Youth Center also has extended hours until 10 p.m. Friday nights. Saturday nights from 4 to 10 p.m. the Youth Center will also be open for middle school and teen youth.
Sutton pointed out that CYSS is also providing out-of-zone busing again this school year and has expanded the list of schools they bus too for those children of deployed Soldiers or DoD civilians. The schools that bussing is provided to includes Bruton High School, Queens Lake Middle School, Magruder Elementary, Peninsula Catholic High School, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Saint Andrew's Episopal School, Mary Passage, Denbigh Baptist Christin School, Richneck Elementary, Gildersleeve Middle School, Tabb High School, Tabb Middle School and Mount Vernon Elementary. The service is provided morning and afternoon on school days. Childern must be registered with CYSS to use the service.
Sutton also explained that they are also providing a lot of short term alternative child care at either the chapel or 3rd Port when meetings are held on nights that the CDC isn't open. Units are also doing voluntary child care in a unit setting. This is where the units are getting trained so they can care for their own children at the FRG meeting location they are at or where they assist another uit by caring for their children during their FRG meting. This comes in handy when units want to assist each other during meetings and events with child care.
Sutton went on to mention that as of Monday they will be providing childcare at McClellan Fitness Center Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. for those who want to participate in any of the fitness programs or just want to go to the gym. This program is open to anyone on post who wants to use it, they will just need to pay for the service, if applicable and children need to be registered with CYSS. She said they will be offering prepaid punch cards for this service also.
Sutton says some of these programs are offered here locally and that they have evolved through focus group meetings, interactive customer evaluation comments or just suggestions to her by the commands. She said that they look at each suggestion and idea and see what the benefit is before implementing. Once something is implemented though they relook the use and feedback and make adjustments where necessary.
In closing Sutton said, "I think it's a wonderful program. From being a military spouse myself and having lived through deployments, I think it was very well thought out to give spouses the opportunity to have some services that they normally wouldn't have, plus give them some breaks and some camaraderie with other spouses that are going through the same thing."