By Beth Brady Miller
The average military spouse can move 8-12 times in the span of a 20-year military career, which often means having to start over in each location, dealing with the struggles of meeting new people and finding a sense of community in their new home.
In fact, according to the 2021 Blue Star Families’ Military Lifestyle Survey, 70% of active-duty military family members do not feel a sense of belonging to their local civilian community.
That is why the USO launched a worldwide initiative focusing on programs to strengthen and empower military spouses by connecting them to their communities through the USO Coffee Connections program.
The USO Coffee Connections program aims to address some of the challenges that military spouses face by providing them with a comfortable, casual environment in which they can share advice with one another, learn about local events, make new friends and feel a sense of community.
The USO Coffee Connections program in the Hampton Roads and Central Virginia (HRCV) area covers nearly the entire state of Virginia and even includes special events held for military spouses who live near Elizabeth City, North Carolina. From Richmond and the Virginia Peninsula to the Southside region, monthly events take place all over the state.
This USO program helps military spouses connect with people who are going through the same life experiences as them – but ensuring that all military spouses throughout the state have a chance to attend a USO Coffee Connections event in the HRCV area now means being flexible and on the move.
In addition to the already popular monthly USO Coffee Connections held at Fort Lee, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, and Naval Station Norfolk, USO staff and volunteers decided to reach even more military spouses by incorporating an ‘Expeditionary’ USO Coffee Connections program into their monthly schedule.
To reach more military spouses in the area who might not necessarily be located near a traditional, brick-and-mortar USO center, the USO HRCV Programs Director Krystle Lipetzky and Programs Coordinator Tara Nichols decided to take the coffee and conversation meet-and-greets on the road, moving the event each month to a different military installation that previously had never hosted the event.
Since USO HRCV supports all six military branches and is home to the world’s largest naval base, it seemed like an obvious choice.
“Having attended Coffee Connections as a participant and being able to meet other spouses in the area, it was a delight and privilege to get to host them on behalf of the USO,” said Tara.
“Coffee Connections really allow for spouses to connect with one another by being in a welcoming and engaging environment without the pressure of a large crowd or set agenda. I love attending and hosting.”
For one military spouse, USO Coffee Connections are a much-needed break for an already busy mom with another baby on the way.
“It was nice to get out of the house, have some adult interaction, and meet other spouses,” said Franchesca DesJardins. “I’m newer to the area and my husband has shore duty, so it’s harder to meet people.”
Some USO Coffee Connections events have arts or crafts activities in addition to the great coffee and conversation. Others have fun, simple cooking activities like creating red, white and blue-decoration-covered strawberries.
At some of these events, the USO team collaborates with on-base resources, such as health insurance support liaisons from the nearby Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, to provide military spouses with helpful information on navigating military life.
“I learned today that some things have changed with the benefits,” said Franchesca. “It’s been four years since our last child was born[so] it was nice to get a head’s up that the process is different this time around.”
From frequent moves to the daily stress of living a military lifestyle, military spouses contend with a great deal of uncertainty while supporting their loved one’s military career. However, they can always count on the USO for support – from making new friends to navigating military life – no matter where their service takes them.
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