When service members return from active duty, they may struggle to reintegrate with their families’ responsibilities, schedules, and expectations. U of I students are helping to renew these relationships in the agricultural education collaborative leadership course.
The course partners with Illinois Operation: Military Kids, a coalition of organizations that support family reintegration, to deliver “family packs” that foster military families’ reintegration.
“Collaborative partnerships raise awareness of and support for military families,” said Linda Kupferschmid, an Operation: Military Kids project coordinator. “Family packs containing letters of appreciation, gift cards, family games, and more provide realistic encouragement to our sometimes-overlooked military families.”
Student Zachary Reid’s group is collaborating with two organizations to host a 3-on-3-basketball tournament in support of Operation: Military Kids.
“As the capstone to achieving a leadership studies minor, this class offers a unique experience to incorporate and apply all we’ve learned from previous ag ed classes,” Reid said. “It requires students to put into practice project development, implementation, and management, while raising awareness in Champaign-Urbana of the difficulties veterans face when returning home.”
Caroline Hoff and her group decided to include activities that require parental help, such as tie-dye kits, pottery kits, and model-building kits, as well as sports equipment, playing cards, board games, and scrapbooking supplies.
"Collaborative Leadership is a unique class because our grade is dependent on our ability to work together with multiple organizations toward a common goal,” Hoff said. “My group is working to compile boxes so military families will have easy and fun ideas about how to spend time together."
Instructor Richard Clark said the project lets students apply in the real world what they have learned in previous courses about personal leadership, organizational leadership, and community leadership.
“Our students have gained an appreciation for the sacrifice that soldiers and their families experience during deployment and return,” Clark said. “Through this project, they take that message to the broader community, get involved, and say thank you for the soldier’s service in a tangible way.”
Kari Keating, who also teaches a section of the course, said that in addition to students, the community and military families benefit from this collaboration. The community benefits through the opportunity to build stronger families, gain a stronger sense of gratitude, and create community partnerships. And, most important, military families benefit in knowing that students and the community appreciate their efforts and care enough to reach out and provide support.
Clark said the course ties together the three major functions of a land-grant university, integrating education, research on family resilience, and outreach to the community to make a lasting difference.
If you are interested in providing support to Illinois Operation: Military Kids, contact Kupferschmid (firstname.lastname@example.org, 217-265-8209).