This Organization Gives Military Parenting a Needed Boost

 Maddy Patterson works on a puzzle at the ASYMCA, Hawaii. (U.S. Army/Kristen Wong)
Maddy Patterson works on a puzzle at the ASYMCA, Hawaii. (U.S. Army/Kristen Wong)

If you have kids and have been stationed at a base where this organization has a presence, you know they're there.

Maybe it's the kid camp help. Maybe it's the playgroups, preschool, childcare or parent-kid adventures. Or maybe you've used their food pantry or ball gown lending closet.

But no matter the reason you've crossed paths, the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) has probably made life just a little bit easier for you and your military family. And that's exactly what they are trying to do, said ASYMCA president William French.

"Strengthening our military family is really what we do, and our focus, just like the boarder YMCA, is youth development, healthy living and social responsibility," he said.

French, a retired Vice Admiral who once led Navy Installation Command, is intimately familiar with how budget cuts impact services on base. And even when the military budget is increased, family services don't always see that money. That means families must rely on non-profits like the ASYMCA or go without that support.

That's why French emphasizes his organization's child-related help. By giving military spouses easy access to affordable childcare and parenting help, the ASYMCA frees them up to find employment. And in a world that assumes households have two incomes, giving spouses a shot at having a job goes a long way.

Once one of the largest military support organizations in the nation, the ASYMCA currently has 13 branches with 20 affiliates and 200 service centers on or near 75 military installations, he said.

And each service center is designed to meet the needs of the local community. For example, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky the ASYMCA provides a variety of programs, including a preschool service and a military ball gown lending closet. At Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, the ASYMCA not only has multiple on-base locations, but also staffs a lounge at the nearby international airport.

And the ASYMCA doesn't just offer services. My family got to jump in on a recent ASYMCA mother-son day trip. The organization subsidized train tickets and organized a hike to the Spencer Glacier in Chugach National Forest, a stop that is only accessible by foot, train or plane. We were given snacks for the ride, access to a forest ranger to answer questions and the chance to spend time together in a place free from distractions. It was awesome.

French said those are the kinds of programs that help them meet their mission of strengthening families. And the organization, he said, is looking to grow by expanding their summer camp programs and working closely with local YMCAs to leverage resources there.

You can check out all the ASYMCA's locations and resources on their website.

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