The fall season is a favorite season for many-warm sweaters, fall leaves, pumpkins and apple cider. Autumn is also a time to reflect on the year’s bounty and to say thank you. November brings Election Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving-three days we can extend a special thanks to our troops and veterans and to acknowledge the children and teens also affected by military life.
In my rural community, many young people are impacted by military deployment. The statistics show that many of the teens in your town may be as well. According to the Department of Defense, 1.8 million children and teens in the United States have family members who are currently serving in the military, and 85% of those teens attend public schools and most likely use public libraries (National Military Family Association).
Even if a teen doesn’t have a parent in active service, he or she may have a brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or cousin serving. Studies have shown that “rates of anxiety among military children – as well as emotional and behavioral difficulties – are higher than the national averages” (NMFA), but families cope better with deployment when they receive community support. The best way to help teens manage the stress of deployment is to acknowledge their experience by showing that you know who they are and that you are available to talk (NMFA).
One of the things I have cherished most at my library is an ongoing relationship with Operation Military Kids. OMK is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Army, 4-H, and other national, state, and local partners that supports children and teens impacted by deployment. This wonderful organization is active in 49 states and offers academic support, mentoring, and intervention services; arts, recreation, and leisure activities; life skills, citizenship, and leadership opportunities; and sports, fitness, and health options.
Through an ongoing partnership with OMK, we have delivered several programs to teens and children impacted by military deployment over the last several years. These programs help teens steer clear of risky behaviors by providing a strong, supportive community atmosphere. We also open the opportunities up to the public so that young people can take part and learn with their peers while forming a sense of belonging. Through a Speak Out with Art program, local youth learned about ceramics, painting, and other ways to communicate feelings during a family member’s deployment. Their work culminated in a mural in our library’s community room. Teens were also invited to learn about action photography and to help create a Purple Up for Military Kids quilt that is now displayed at the Family Assistance Center at the Belgrade Armory. This week for Veterans Day, teens will come together again to create handmade greeting cards to send to loved ones overseas.
Has your library thought about ways to engage teens impacted by military life? Are you doing any special events in honor of Veterans Day, Month of the Military Child (April), or National Purple Up Day? As you design your programs, I encourage you to checkout the “10 Things Military Teens Want You to Know” toolkit offered by the National Military Family Association.