Homegrown Family-based program takes root at Fort Polk
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Kinsley Miner, 1, (front) has fun playing in the water as Heidi Lukefahr, 3, holds a water squirter July 14 at Fort Polk’s Main Post Chapel playdate. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL
Homegrown Family-based program takes root at Fort Polk
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Parents and children attend Fort Polk’s Main Post Chapel playdate July 14 to have fun and mingle with other military Families. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT POLK, La. — When it comes to programs for children, there can be a uniformity that doesn’t always take into consideration the distinctive needs of a Family dynamic, not to mention a military-specific lifestyle.

The idea for a new program combining those features grew from the fact raising children in the military can be different, what some of those differences look like and how they impact children and parents.

“We (chapel staff and parents) started a conversation a few months ago, and from those discussions came the idea for a program called Parents of Little Kids at Polk or P.O.L.K. @ Polk,” Chrissa Gross, Fort Polk’s Main Post Chapel religious education director, said.

The P.O.L.K. @ Polk leadership team was formed and began building a free, grassroots program that is military and Polk-centric.

The program has three goals:

Provide spiritual relevance with a Christian foundation.

Provide military relevance by focusing on military-specific conversations and topics.

Provide military parents with tools to help them learn to improve their situation at home.

The discussion began with a list of all of the things that are distinct about military life.

“Once we are in it (the military lifestyle), we don’t even realize the difference because it becomes normal to us. We just automatically do it — it’s like autopilot,” Gross said.

One example of things parents outside the military might not have to deal with is single-handedly traveling long distances.

“It’s really common for a spouse to load up a truck and move long distances by themself. It’s something that probably every military spouse has done at least once and will probably do again,” Gross said. “People who aren’t in the military don’t regularly pile everything they own and their children in a vehicle and drive across the country alone.”

Having conversations about how military Families lives are different, and how they can celebrate those differences and build community around the military is what the P.O.L.K. @ Polk program is about.

“We want to offer people something different,” Gross said. “The program is open to any parent with a child under 5 years old and is Christian based, though not overtly religious. What really ties everyone together is the military. If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t be here.”

The P.O.L.K. @ Polk leadership team has designed things to include the entire Family.

Some meetings will be held on weekdays, but the team will also be implementing evening meetings, so both parents can attend.

“We plan to have four meetings per month,” Gross said.

•The first meeting is called the village meeting and will introduce the topic for the month. It sets the stage for the meetings and activities that follow.

•The second meeting will be a playdate for Families. Everyone is invited.

•The third meeting is about being social. In September, participants will play

play a “Family Feud” game with military topics.

•The last meeting is a date night for parents.

“It’s been really rewarding for the leadership team to think about these things and customize the program to our community,” Gross said.

The Sept. 8 meeting discussion topic is separation in the military due to temporary duty, deployment or training in the “box” (the training area at Fort Polk).

“We plan to talk about the cycle of emotions that comes along with that separation, not just for couples, but also for their kids,” Gross said. “We will incorporate some scripture and give them spiritual tools.”

The leadership team is made up of women who know the military lifestyle — they live it as spouses and some have grown up with it as kids.

“They have a unique perspective and are making this curriculum with military parents in mind,” Gross said. “It’s been a beautiful thing, almost therapeutic, to sit and hash out upcoming topics.”

Currently, the Main Post Chapel is hosting summer playdates to invite Families to stop by and have some fun before the program launches. The next playdate is Aug. 27.

“We put the bouncy houses up and fill wading pools at the chapel and have some fun,” Gross said. “Parents can come here and just be who they are. There is no test they have to take to walk through our doors. We want people to know they are welcome. Whether it’s the playdates or P.O.L.K. @ Polk, this is their chapel and they’re part of this community. People are looking for a safe place to belong. We want to offer it to them,” Gross said.

Rachel Markee, spouse and P.O.L.K. @ Polk leadership team co-coordinator, said she is excited about the new program.

“Raising kids in the military is hard. We are usually far away from our family and normal support systems. I think Polk @ Polk is the perfect way for Families to find their tribe at Fort Polk,” Markee said.

The program isn’t just about dependents.

“The fact that we hold one of the meetings at night provides an opportunity for Soldiers, spouses and single parents that have to work during the day to take part in the program,” Markee said. “My spouse has friends at work, but he loves being a dad. It can be hard for him to find friends that are Family oriented. P.O.L.K. @ Polk is a great opportunity for him to do that, not to mention he gets to spend quality time with our Family.”

Tara Reece attended a Main Post Chapel playdate event July 14 and said she is looking forward to taking part in the new program.

“I think it’s beneficial and will help create a community. It’s an additional resource because being a member of the military can be lonely,” she said. “I hope people come and join us. It sounds great.”

The September P.O.L.K. @ Polk meeting scheduled is Sept. 8, 15 and 22 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. and Sept. 29 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Main Post Chapel.