Imagine being a military family, freshly moved to a new area with no friends or family for miles around. The isolation that follows a PCS move (military lingo for Permanent Change of Station) can be overwhelming.
That’s where Blue Star Families comes in. Have you heard of this organization? If you are a military family, chances are that you have. Blue Star Families (BSF) ensures that wherever American military families go, they can always feel connected, supported and empowered to thrive – in every community, across the nation, and around the globe.
Blue Star Families is the largest chapter-based nonprofit organization serving active duty of all branches, Guard and Reserve, wounded, transitioning veterans and their families, as well as retired military families and community members. With more than 150,000 members in their network, Blue Star Families touches more than 1.5 million military family members every year.
Blue Star Families was founded in 2009 by military spouses to empower military families to thrive as they serve. They are on a mission and committed to strengthening military families by connecting them with their neighbors – individuals and organizations – to create vibrant communities of mutual support. They believe that: “We’re all stronger when we take care of one another.”
I first learned about this organization when we were moving from North Carolina to Washington. A friend told me about an organization that partnered with local museums across the country and admitted active military service members and their dependents free of charge.
Blue Star Museums
She was referring to the Blue Star Museums program, a program in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Defense and museums across America. Each summer since 2010, Blue Star Museums have offered free admission to the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve.
I quickly took advantage of this great resource by mapping out each state we would be in, and booked our hotel near participating museums. This program runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day every summer and you can find the list of participating museums by state here. Imagine taking your family to art museums, children’s museums, history museums and more…all for free! In fact, in 2018 over 680,000 military families visited Blue Star Museums. It is such a great program that it is the highlight of our summer each year.
Blue Star Parks
Another great program offered through BSF is Blue Star Parks. If you are a military family, grab a free America the Beautiful park pass and download the new ParkPassport app to begin exploring America’s bounty and beauty. With more than 2,000 national parks, including our very own Mount Rainier National Park, and federal recreation sites at your fingertips, there’s never a shortage of wilderness to explore or memories to make.
BSF not only connects military families to the wonderful art community or the great outdoors, but also offers a wide variety of other programs that enhance family life, help spouses find jobs, provide caregivers with essential peer support, and connect families with their civilian neighbors to build strong communities. More than 1.5 million military family members around the world have benefited from Blue Star Families’ programs, and that number continues to grow as the program expands and continues to innovate with new community partners.
Military Family Lifestyle Survey
This organization is also on the forefront of the unique challenges facing modern military families. Their annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey leads the market in giving military families a voice to identify the key aspects of military life and facilitate in bridging the gap between military and community members/policy makers. Military families are able to identify areas of need and even frustration. The largest of its kind, this survey is one of the most important resources for understanding the current state of the military community.
Over 10,000 respondents participate in the survey from April to June annually. Active duty members, as well as veteran families, have the opportunity to voice their opinions on topics of military pay, PTSD and spouse employment, just to name a few.
According to the 2018 survey, the top three concerns facing military families today were the amount of time away from family, military spouse employment and military child education and impact of deployment on children. Furthermore, 48% of military family respondents indicated that they did not feel a sense of belonging to their local civilian community. For more details on this survey, click here.
With the help of neighbors across the country, Blue Star Families is overcoming these challenges and the isolation and alienation of frequent moves, deployments, and reduced support from the government.
There are currently 10 BSF chapters around the country, including: Baltimore, Chicago, Jacksonville, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Washington D.C., Tennessee, New York, Missouri and Hawaii. Although there is not a chapter in the Washington area as of yet, BSF is still a very active area for military families. BSF relies heavily on local volunteers to connect military families with their communities. If you are interested in volunteering, contact local volunteer, Sonia Garza at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blue Star Families is a fully virtual organization. For more information about Blue Star Families, visit the Blue Star Families website. You can also follow the Washington Blue Star Families on Facebook.