FORT HOOD, Texas — When you're in your hometown it's relatively easy to find people who you can trust with your child's care because there's a familiarity that comes with being in one's hometown.
But who does the young family turn to when it's new to the Army, its first duty station is Fort Hood, and it doesn't know who to trust?
Sharon Padgett, Evelyn Pannell and Kasey Sanders, members of the Fort Hood Volunteer Childcare Fund, distribute information about their nonprofit organization Friday, Feb. 14, 2013, at the Commissary in Fort Hood, Texas. "We just want to grow the program," said Pannell. "We just want to get volunteers using it." (Courtesy Photo)
“I didn't know a lot of people when I first came here, you don't know where to leave your children, you don't know who to trust,” said Robin Crouse, a former recipient of the childcare fund. “The volunteer childcare fund provided me a safe environment for my children to allow me to do that.”
By providing childcare for people, the Fort Hood Volunteer Childcare Fund creates an opportunity for people to interact and build relationships within the community. Founded in 1989, the FHVCCF is a private non-profit organization dedicated to raising money to pay the childcare costs for people who want to volunteer.
The organization pays for up to 40 hours of childcare a month per child at places like the Fort Hood Child Development Center for those who volunteer with approved organizations.
“To have to pay childcare is very cost prohibitive,” said Evelyn Pannell, president of the FHVCCF. “So this came about when everyone saw there was a need to fill a void, so that the volunteer pool would be larger, and the obstacle of childcare would be out of the way.”
The USO, the Red Cross, and the Enlisted Spouse's Club are a few of the many organizations working with the FHVCCF.
With many shifts to fill, the USO relies on manpower that comes from volunteers.
“I believe it's a very critical program, because most of our volunteers do utilize the childcare fund,” said Ruben Bocanegra, the USO volunteer manager. “This is a volunteer-run center; without the volunteers we won't be able to provide the services we need for our troops and families.”
Since the volunteers work with places such as the USO and the Red Cross, a lot of the work they do is easily translated into job skills such as office management and customer service experience.
“It gives people a chance to get out of the house, volunteering on Fort Hood, and making those connections that could very easily lead to employment,” said Pannell, who was previously stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., where an organization similar to the FHVCCF exist as well. “It gives you valuable skills that you can fall back on when you do go down the road to perhaps look for a job.”
Now the director of the USO, Crouse credits her previous years of volunteering for her job success. Due to the fund, she was given the opportunity to learn job skills she otherwise couldn't obtain without the assistance of the childcare fund.
“As a volunteer, I heavily relied on the volunteer childcare fund, back in 2004 and 2005, to be able to give my time back to the USO, and to learn very lucrative job skills,” said Crouse, former vice president of the childcare fund. “I think that is how I got to be the director because I was able to volunteer, to learn skills at the USO that were translatable later, and I couldn't have done that without the volunteer childcare fund.”
In addition to building job skills, it also provides an opportunity to get out of the house, and escape from the mundane to interact with people.
“It's great,” said Elizabeth Butler, a USO volunteer who's been using the fund since October 2013. “I get to come and volunteer and do something for the community here at the USO, and my son gets to be with children and interact over there. It has really helped both of us to get out of the house, and I appreciate how it's free for volunteers.”
However, even with all of its successes, the visibility of the FHVCCF has decreased in recent years. Currently, the organization has fewer than 30 approved volunteers, but they would like to see their number of recipients increase to at least 150.
“What I really want to do is get awareness out, and build partnerships with these organizations, so they know to tell their volunteers about us,” said Pannell. “We'd love to almost run out of money. We'd love to have to worry about money.”
To utilize the FHVCCF, people must first register their children with Child, Youth and School Services. Afterwards, potential recipients simply need to fill out an application found either on the Fort Hood Volunteer Childcare Fund Facebook page or at The Lane Volunteer Center.
“When I came here I didn't know anybody, and for me I was lonely,” said Crouse. “How do you make friends? Some of the best quality friends that you'll ever make are the ones who have a giving heart.”
By U.S. Army Spc. Marcus Floyd
Provided through DVIDS
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