By Chaplain (Captain) James Saunders
A faith-based outreach program that was started by a chaplain with the Maryland National Guard has rapidly expanded across the nation and is gaining momentum in Tennessee.
“Partners in Care” is an initiative of the Tennessee National Guard (TNG) Chaplain’s Office. Officially launched in January of 2012, the purpose of this initiative is to coordinate support for Tennessee’s military personnel and families through partnerships with local faith communities and civic organizations.
Members of Tennessee’s military force―both Army and Air Guard―have made enormous contributions and tremendous sacrifices during the past decade, including multiple deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the provision of border security along our nation’s southern border, and offering military support to civilian authorities during natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina.
Deployments and training exercises take soldiers and airmen away from their families for extended periods of time. While these dedicated service members work to secure our nation’s freedoms, their spouses and family members diligently carry out the home mission―balancing work/family life day-to-day routines and managing responsibilities such as raising children, maintaining homes and personal property, and meeting financial obligations. Through it all, military families remain strong, committed, and proud to serve. That does not mean that the challenges of military life are unfelt or go unnoticed. High-tempo missions and periods of family separation can strain marriages, impact parent-child relations, and create a host of additional stressors uncommon to many civilian families.
Most of Tennessee’s military families have adequate support systems in place and the help of extended family, friends, or a faith community is often just a phone call away. Remarkably, though, a growing number of military families across our state live in rural areas and remain isolated―often encountering deployments, extended training periods, financial hardships, and day-to-day stressors with little to no external supports. Thankfully, the “Partners in Care” initiative exists to bridge this support gap and promote resiliency by providing access for soldiers, airmen, and their families to faith-based resources and services which mitigate hardship and foster a sense of normalcy. To that end, there are currently over 80 faith communities and civic organizations signed on as “Partners in Care” across Tennessee. And the number of volunteer participants continues to grow.
All faith communities are welcome to participate as “Partners in Care” congregations. Support is offered by the participating congregation or civic group to all referred warriors and Families within the limits of the organization’s resources and abilities, and free of charge without regard to the recipient’s religious affiliation. Referrals of TNG members and families to “Partners in Care” congregations are made through the coordinated efforts of TNG Commanders and Units, the TNG Family Programs Office, and the TNG Chaplain’s Office. Referral to a “Partners in Care” organization by the TNG in no way implies endorsement of a particular religion by the TNG.
Services offered by current “Partners in Care” include pastoral counseling―individual, couple, and family; child care; basic household and auto repairs; lawn care; women’s, men’s, and youth support groups for addictions recovery and anger management; emergency food, clothing, and housing support; crisis and grief counseling; transportation; parenting classes; and financial counseling. This list is not exhaustive nor do all “Partners” offer each service; these examples simply illustrate the wide range of services and resources available to meet the needs of military families.
Faith communities and civic organizations in the Upper Cumberland region interested in learning more about the “Partners in Care” faith-based initiative are encouraged to contact Chaplain (Captain) James Saunders, East TN Regional Support Chaplain, at 423-582-0582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be glad to schedule a time to come and speak to your organization about how to become affiliated with the “Partners in Care” program.