FORT DRUM, N.Y. (July 26, 2019) -- Nearly 200 Fort Drum community members visited the Army Community Service building on July 25 to help the ACS staff celebrate 54 years of serving Soldiers and their families.

It was a birthday party for all ages with ice cream and cupcakes, cookies and popcorn, games, karaoke and even a lifelike cow for kids to practice their milking techniques.

"C'mon, guys, you didn't get your faces painted yet," Cathy Ferran, ACS director, called out to two Soldiers passing by her. "I dare you to get your face painted and go back to formation."

Ferran has worked for the organization for almost 25 years, and she said she has loved coming to work every day. She started her federal career working at a child care facility overseas before transitioning over to ACS.

"There's something really special about working with Soldiers and family members," she said. "I just really enjoy it, and that's because of the closeness you get by working with the whole community."

It's an organization that follows Army families from one installation to another, so that they are never without those vital services such as Financial Readiness, Relocation Readiness, Survivor Outreach Services, Army Family Team Building, and many more.

What changes from post to post are the ACS staffs, and Ferran said that the people who work at Fort Drum go out of their way to make a difference in the lives of community members.

"Well, we hear that a lot, people saying that this is the best ACS," she said. "Personally, and this has been my philosophy, we don't sit at our desks and wait for someone to come to us and say they need help. I truly believe in keeping things innovative and creative, and getting out in the community, to reach people."

Ferran said that one of their biggest challenges is making sure that new Soldiers and their families know about ACS and reminding more seasoned Army families about programs they weren't aware existed.

"Often times, I think of ACS as an untapped treasure, because a lot of people don't realize everything ACS has to offer and the value it can add to their lives," she said. "We pride ourselves on - no matter what the situation is - we're going to help connect Soldiers and families to the support systems that will benefit them. If they aren't sure where to turn to for help, think ACS first."

So, in that way, the birthday party was also an opportunity for families to learn more about ACS programs, but not in an overt, informational booth kind of way. Ferran said that they wanted to make it fun and educational. At one tent, attendees could test their parenting skills by finding all of the home hazards laid out that could potentially harm a child.

"Hopefully, this can help increase awareness of the kinds of programing and support that we can do," she said. "We want to educate the community and try to get them connected to community resources. That's what ACS is about - making connections with our community members from the time."

Azenith Amos experienced that connection recently when she gave birth to her son, and someone from ACS visited her at the hospital to deliver a special "Baby Bundle" of goodies through the Family Advocacy Program.

"It's great that they came to see me at the hospital and welcome our new baby," she said.

This was her first visit to the ACS building on post, and she brought her husband, two daughters and newborn son to look around, have fun and meet some of the staff.

Among those staff members is Faith Hopper, who retired from the Army after 24 years of service and has worked as the ACS program support assistance since 2013.

"I just enjoy being around Soldiers and being able to help them and their families," she said. "I've always thought ACS is great because of all the trips and different activities and programs that they have to support the community."

And after 54 years of support, ACS is still growing. Ferran said that, under the commanding general's guidance, they recently began a new "Spouses Welcome" session from 9 to 10:30 a.m. every Thursday at Clark Hall.

The informational meeting allows new spouses to learn about services and programs available at Fort Drum and in the North Country, and meet some of the senior leader spouses on post who can share some of their own experiences. All family members, including parents and children, are welcome to attend.

The Fort Drum ACS staff will host another party, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 5 outside the Pine Plains Bowling Center.

"We always do this at the end of summer, and it's like a back-to-school party," Ferran said. "We give away school supplies, and there will be food, games and other activities. It's another chance to get people out and involved and aware of what's going on in their community."

To learn more about ACS, visit https://drum.armymwr.com/programs/army-community-service or https://www.facebook.com/FtDrumACS/.