As the Army's Family Covenant sweeps a widening arch to be inclusive of all families enduring a deployment of a loved one, Army Community Service is broadening its programs to include more than the wives of Soldiers.

In recent months, ACS has been making a shift from its Waiting Wives and Waiting Spouses programs to a more encompassing program titled Hearts Apart.

"We are making this change to reflect the makeup of geographically separated families," Mary Breeden of ACS said.

"We are trying to encompass everyone involved during a separation. That can include wives and husbands as well as children, parents and other relatives. With the family covenant there's been more of a focus on families, and families come in all shapes and sizes. When you are geographically separated from a Soldier or civilian that is related to you, we want you to know the Army is focused on you and your needs."

Because of the nature of Redstone Arsenal and its families - many living off post and scattered throughout North Alabama - Breeden runs the Hearts Apart program primarily through e-mail communications. She has about 300 family members -- including the families of deployed National Guard and Reserve Soldiers and civilians as well as regular Army -- that she communicates with daily.

"We want them to know we are here to support them," Breeden said. "We send them information on what is going on in the community, how they can stay busy and what kinds of resources are available to them to address financial, emotional or adjustment issues. We tell them about discounts and specials for the military.

"And we answer questions. I've had questions about everything from 'What kind of cake should I pack to send to Iraq'' to 'How can I get help with home schooling my child''"

What Breeden does through e-mail is similar to the 24/7 Military One Source program, except that Hearts Apart is on a local level. In some ways, Hearts Apart even takes on the role of a Family Readiness Group.

"There are families in this area who are geographically separated from their Soldier but who chose to come here to be close to family rather than stay at their Soldier's home base," Breeden said. "We get the onesies and twosies who either don't have an FRG or who are far away from their FRG."

Crystal Pruitt is one geographically separated spouse who has experienced firsthand the benefits of the Hearts Apart program. Her husband, Pfc. Ralph Pruitt, deployed to Korea in August 2008. At about that same time, she and her son, 14-year-old Rodd, moved from Huntsville to Scottsboro to be closer to Crystal Pruitt's mother during an illness.

Now, Crystal Pruitt is moving to housing on Redstone Arsenal and she has turned to Hearts Apart for volunteers who can help her with the move.

"Mary Breeden has been a true blessing to us," said Crystal Pruitt, who besides homeschooling her son is also a stepmother to her husband's two daughters.

"She has helped us in so many ways. We had some adjustments at first and some growing pains. Two weeks into the deployment, it seemed like everything fell apart. It was hard getting used to him being gone. Mary has provided us with a lot of information that has helped us. She is continually helping us with resources and providing us with the support we need."

Hearts Apart also sponsors a monthly Talk Time, a support group for geographically separated families that meets to discuss issues pertaining to separations. Often the group will have a speaker who will address anything from maintaining the family cars to coping with rebellious children when a spouse is deployed. The next meeting of Talk Time is set for Feb. 3 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at ChildWise. There is free child care provided.

"Talk Times gives spouses a chance to meet one-on-one and get to know each other," Breeden said. "It's a group that's meant to inform and support the spouse."

Hearts Apart also coordinates an annual Blue Star Service Banner program recognizing the families of deployed Soldiers and civilians, and other various support activities, such as programs on strengthening stepfamilies and marriage enrichment. It will also assist in coordinating other support groups and programs as suggested by its family participants.

"Whatever comes up, whatever they need, we will support it," Breeden said. "There are a lot of resources available to these families. We want to not only provide our support but also show these families where they can get even more support within the community."

It is, though, often difficult to get various support groups started when the families are physically separated from each other, Breeden said. That's why Hearts Apart relies on already established programs at Redstone Arsenal and in the community to provide support to families.

"We focus on the one-on-one link that we have with our families," she said. "If they need a special service, we can help them find it. If they need a place for their children to meet other children, we direct them to Child and Youth Services programs. If they want to send a video to their Soldier, we will put them in touch with the public library that has a web cam for that use. If they want to go back to school, we will give them the contacts at the educational center on Redstone Arsenal. We had one spouse who wanted to do geo-caching. So we set her up with the Youth Center where she could teach and mentor young people who can then participate in geo-caching with her."

Hearts Apart will also check out free offers and discounts to make sure they are legitimate before passing them on to their families.

"The e-mails and phone calls and other communications that we can do lets families know they are not alone," Breeden said. "It doesn't always make up for being separated. None of it does. But it makes it easier and makes our geographically separated families feel more appreciated."

For more information on Hearts Apart, call Breeden 876-5397.