I’ve spent years working in communities, and I’ve seen the ebbs and flows of support for charitable services. But it’s the mission that keeps public servants like me going.
In the heart of the central Maryland region, a dedicated group of individuals is quietly making a significant impact on the lives of military members, veterans and their families. They work behind the scenes, often on top of their regular careers and without a desire for recognition. With a long list of insecurities and threats to basic needs, the work of these civil servants comes at a desperate hour for military families.
Nonprofits need volunteers for a multitude of reasons. In a time of decreasing charitable giving, and a reduction of staff for many nonprofits serving military families and veterans, the necessity of a reliable network of volunteers to continue the work is essential. The Baltimore and Chesapeake Chapter of Blue Star Families, for example, relies on the selfless contributions of more than 30 volunteers, representing a diverse cross section of active-duty service members, retirees, teenagers and other community members.
You may wonder why military and veterans service organizations need support. Well, just ask the 1.3 million active-duty service members, 16.2 million veterans and their families — the people that these organizations serve.
While some hardships are felt across all communities, the challenges military and veterans’ families face are often a result of their service to our country. I see it in Baltimore every day. Military families struggle to find new health care providers, build connections, and enroll their children in school. Some have had bouts of housing instability due to frequent relocations, face a lack of mental health support, and have financial instability brought on from years of spousal unemployment.
Military families move frequently, often every two to three years, and the lack of familiar faces and inability to navigate their new surroundings is extremely isolating at first. That’s why the support military and veterans service organizations provide is imperative. And with the reduction in staffing, volunteers must continue the work to ensure that these families, in every community, can find solace.
Here in central Maryland, our chapter is doing its part to welcome and support these families. But we need volunteers to help us with activities such as spouse appreciation events and coffee connects at Starbucks. And, of course, we are grateful to those such as the St. Mary’s County Library, Anne Arundel County government, Starbucks staff and Tickets for Kids that have done so much already.
We’re looking for schools, businesses, nonprofits and neighbors to help us show military and veterans’ families that they belong here. For example, we had a caregiver and wounded veteran’s spouse who recently relocated to the Maryland area with her family. Thanks to one of our volunteer-led community events, we were able to connect her with a network of support. Now, she is part of our Blue Star Community and knows where to turn if she needs anything.
Volunteers have a deep connection to the community, enabling them to identify needs and suggest ideas for fundraising and organizational support. Their passion for the cause is evident as they willingly commit countless hours to load, package, store, inventory and unload supplies. But their most valuable contribution is the warm smiles and friendly faces they offer, providing emotional support to military families facing unique challenges. In 2022, our chapter exceeded 1,200 volunteer hours, and in 2023, their commitment is expected to reach 1,700 hours, demonstrating that these unsung heroes show no signs of slowing down.
Our military is so much more than a fighting force. It’s made up of members of everyday families voluntarily living through unique circumstances and challenges while serving our country. It makes an enormous difference for them to feel welcome and wanted in their new neighborhoods. The least we can do is volunteer a little time while they volunteer and dedicate their lives to service.
Yolanda T. Rayford is director of the Baltimore and Chesapeake chapter of Blue Star Families, a national nonprofit that supports military families by connecting them with their neighbors.