FORT BLISS, Texas - Tucked away in a nondescript brown building on Chaffee Road is a little gem of a gift shop bursting with color and charm.
Cleverly named A Little Bit of Bliss, the Fort Bliss Spouses' Association (FBSA)-operated store is a brick-and-mortar solution to something that 1st Armored Division and U.S. Army leaders care about very much- spouse employment and quality of life.
Since reopening in October 2019 with a new look, the gift shop has become a haven for military spouses looking for a creative outlet, hobby, comradery or to promote a side business and make some extra cash.
"It's our service that we want to give to our spouses," said Angelina Edwards, manager of the gift shop and a military spouse herself. "We want to give them that platform to be able to not only make a little extra money but to keep them busy and have something for them to do."
While employment challenges are not unique to military spouses, they face additional obstacles due to the transient nature of military life. Deployments, frequent moves, remote locations of military bases, and child care needs are just some of the many challenges that military spouses deal with on a regular basis.
This is the case for one of the gift shop's vendors, Misty Hofmann, a native of Mount Dora, Florida, whose husband is assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion,1AD.
Hofmann is an Air Force veteran with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and several years working as a DoD-contracted satellite imagery analyst under her belt.
Yet due to frequent relocations and having to become the primary child caregiver, she has not had a job since 2011. "It just became too difficult to find a job that correlates to my skill set at those different locations and for that small amount of time that we'd actually be there," said Hofmann. When Hofmann discovered A Little Bit of Bliss, she was overjoyed. She had found a way to occupy her time and feel a sense of accomplishment.
"It's rewarding for me, because as a homemaker, there are a whole lot of things that I do that never actually get finished. I don't feel that sense of completion that I found when I was working, but my side business gave me something to focus on and feel that sense of completion," said Hofmann.
Many military bases are located in rural or remote areas, leading to fierce competition in the job market. Living in an area like El Paso brings the additional challenge of a job market that often expects employees to be bilingual.
"I've had a hard time finding a job because I don't speak Spanish, and it's kind of required to work at a hospital in this area. I've been looking off and on for three years," said Little Bit of Bliss vendor Meagan McCullough, whose husband is assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1AD.
Despite having career experience and an Associate's Degree of Applied Science in Radiologic Technology, the Suwanee, Georgia, native said she has found the job hunt to be difficult.
According to Edwards, this is par for the course. "It's really hard to get jobs here because we live in a place that is highly populated," said Edwards. "About half of the spouses that sell their crafts here can't find jobs and are just trying to make ends meet the best way they can."
The store features many items with military, patriotic, Texas and El Paso among its popular themes. A percentage of the price of each item goes to the FBSA for its programming, and the rest the vendors keep.
The FBSA provides the opportunity for members to participate in social and creative activities while supporting worthwhile service and community activities. The FBSA also operates the Fort Bliss Thrift Shop, with proceeds providing community non-profits with grants and members and their local family members with merit-based scholarships.
Aside from independent opportunities like A Little Bit of Bliss, the Army is improving career and employment opportunities for military spouses through new programs and existing partnerships.
In a bid to support military families, the Army is taking an active approach to help military spouses find jobs, build careers and improve their quality of life.
Supporting Army spouses in continuing their work in a new place of residence with minimal delay and additional expense is important.
Spouses in professionally licensed fields face challenges resulting from delays and the cost of transferring licenses to a new state.
Many spouses may qualify for help in covering the costs of transferring those credentials when they experience a permanent-change-of-station move with their service member spouse.
Under the National Defense Authorization Act 2020, civilian spouses can now receive up to $1,000 in reimbursements for relicensing costs during permanent change-of-station relocations.
Policy details and reimbursement procedures vary by service branch. Spouses are eligible for reimbursement after getting their new license or certification.
Information for each service branch is available on the Military OneSource website.
For those who are interested in joining the A Little Bit of Bliss team for a more local, personal start to employment at Fort Bliss, Edwards encourages spouses to try their hand at crafting.
The shop currently has 23 spouses and service members that are selling their goods there, although typically the average is 50.
"Anyone who might be crafty or wants to try it should come on down, because we have plenty of space for more crafts!" said Edwards.