Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas --
Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas – The Exceptional Family Member Program-Family Support, or EFMP-FS, program is developing new, innovative ways to connect military families despite social distancing challenges.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, initially it seemed almost impossible for many of our EFMP-FS coordinators to stay in close contact with EFMP families and continue providing the level of support so many families had grown accustomed to receiving,” said Saundra Nichols, Air Force’s Personnel Center, EFMP-FS program manager.
Many coordinators began conducting one-on-one wellness calls, offering virtual workshops and events, starting virtual book clubs, teaming up with other organizations for family resources, offering virtual Zoom support groups and increasing their level of communication to stay connected with families.
Currently, there are 100 full-time Airman and Family Readiness Center EFMP-FS coordinators who support 78 Air Force installations. They provide non-medical case management, assess family needs, develop services plans, offer educational workshops and events, provide community resources, and help families navigate the EFMP system.
“With the current global situation and many shelter-in-place orders, we decided to look at Do-It-Yourself kits that families could work on together,” added Erich Lofton, EFMP-FS coordinator for Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. “All of our kits are educational based; the first kits were science and geology sets for families. We had an overwhelming response with this idea and requested our next round of activities to be biology-based kits.”
The Air Force approved over 400 EFMP-FS educational and recreational child and adult events for Fiscal Year 2020 to provide learned skills and improve the quality of life for families. Activities typically range from bowling, golf camps for children, outdoor excursions for the family to painting events and support groups for EFMP adults and caregivers. However, the spread of COVID-19 made it difficult to conduct all these activities.
“Most of the installations were struggling to execute their planned in-person events,” said Nichols. “But our coordinators are very resourceful and developed creative ideas to support EFMP families during this pandemic.”
At Sheppard, Lofton usually leads a story time with an activity. However, physical distancing required him to think creatively to continue this tradition.
“Since I couldn’t do an activity, I decided to include my live animals in the story time. First, I had my donkey, Pedro, co-host. We used Facebook live and provided a short story with interaction and it went over very well,” said Lofton. “Last time I looked, it was over 300 views in a week. Now, every Friday, I provide ‘Story Time from the Book Barn’ and will have one or two of my animals with me.”