An interesting conversation took place at SpouseBUZZ LIVE San Antonio. A family support leader stood up and asked, and I'm parphrasing, "What can we do to get more participation from spouses for our meetings and events?" Other people agreed that this is a common problem at their post/base and expressed their frustration.
I've never been fully satisfied with some of our FRG/FSG discussions here. Some of them have been excellent, but we tend to hear some things over and over; volunteer burnout, adversion to clicks, personality clashes, people don't want everyone in their business, we don't need the hand-holding, and on and on. Not only that, some FRG/FSGs are efficient and function as they were meant to, and some (from what you have told us) do not, so it's hard to discuss such a broad topic because there's no one-size-fits-all.
Although I was present in San Antonio, and I heard everything that was said, I didn't really dwell on it much until I read the Armed Forces Press account of the event, which can be found here. A standard talking point here on the blog, and at our events, is that if your support network (whatever it may be) isn't working for you, create (or find) one that does. Toad and GBear were onto something:
"We are dealing with a different demographic of military families," he said. "The first place these kids go to get information about the base is online. They won't come into our facilities. If we don't have information online, we can't reach them." Another SpouseBuzz "author," Ginger, founder of the troop-support group Sew Much Comfort, agreed. "Back in the day," she said, "advisors were readily available to talk you through the process of moving to a new base. But these new families want to be able to access all the information about services and groups on the Internet."
The new generation of milspouses are tech savvy. Virtual networking is second nature to them, and the internet is a very comfortable place for them. Given the conversations we've had with hundreds of milspouses throughout the last two years, I'm inclined to believe that most don't feel neglected or unsupported at all. They don't need to walk into MWR, ACS or attend FRG meetings to feel that they're supported. They log onto their blogs, My Space accounts, Facebook pages and they're automatically among friends. Friends of their own choosing. Note what one of the attendees of San Antonio said:
Amber agreed that the Internet is a vital component of modern life. "I take classes online because I need a career and school that's portable, so it's the best place to find information," she said. "It's a good way to get to know people and find people that are like you instead of only connecting with the people in your family support group."
Still, that doesn't mean that spouse/support clubs are obsolete, irrelevant and have no role to play. Quite the opposite. It's nice to get together, meet new people and get to know your peers. It's more than nice in some cases, which I'm sure Joan D'Arc can attest to. When something goes wrong, your My Space friends may not be close by, and they can't run to your aid. They can't watch the kids if you have something you need to do. Nor do they know what's going on in your area and with your spouse's unit. FRG/FSG groups are invaluable in many respects.
I think, from what I've seen and heard lately from actual FRG/FSG and spouse club leaders, that maybe official support and readiness groups are competing with the more interesting (to many) model of support that the internet now provides. And in some cases, they're losing. One milspouse had this to say:
"One of the biggest challenges is finding and recruiting the young military spouses for support groups like the spouses' clubs," said Jeanette Hawk of the Navy Wives Club. "I can't wait to get home and get on the computer and say I'm on a blog."
According to many of the leaders and co-leaders we've spoken with, attendance is down and interest is waning. The model that once had milspouses relying on the base/post to give them all relevant information and support no longer exists because so much of it is available online.
What I would have liked to ask the lady who spoke, and what I'll pose to you now, is this: Is attendance and participation down only at meetings/socials but up when the installation offers services and programs to spouses? In other words, do the spouses take full advantage of free day care, career fairs, gym memberships, unique events, etc. but not show up at official meetings, etc.? I think that would be interesting to know.
I firmly believe that the virtual world is a great option for milspouses and it's becoming more and more popular, especially with a younger demographic of milspouses joining the ranks. I wonder if Family Support Groups are just not catching up quickly enough. While more spouses are turning to the internet, are FRG/FSGs finding creative ways to use the internet to their advantage, or might they be missing an opportunity? I see plenty of ways the virtual and physical support systems could compliment one another and I'm wondering if we're doing enough to bridge what seems to be a big divide.
What's your situation? Are you active in your spouse club/FRG? Why or why not? Is your club/FRG doing anything online to help attract more physical participation? Is attendance booming or waning for your meetings and events? Would you be more likely to attend an event if you formed "virtual" relationships with the spouses in your unit first?
Who has unit blogs, discussion boards, etc., and are they effective in keeping the spouses in your unit connected?
I think this is an interesting topic for discussion, so let's discuss....