America Supports You: Ohio First Lady's Initiative Helps Military Families

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

BEXLEY, Ohio, April 24, 2006  - In an effort to ease the burden military families face when a loved one is deployed, the first lady of Ohio, Hope Taft, started the "On the Ohio Homefront" initiative.

The Internet-based project connects the families of deployed Ohio military personnel with free and discounted services from various Ohio businesses, nonprofit groups and faith-based organizations. The On the Ohio Homefront Web site provides names and contact information of participating organizations and lists services they provide. The services vary from discounted home cleaning assistance to free birthday party celebrations for children, she said.

"The initiative is a way that we can honor military families for making the sacrifice to let their loved one go overseas," Taft told American Forces Press Service during an interview at the Ohio governor's mansion here last week. "We want to relieve the worry and stress of the loved one who is serving their country by wrapping our community arms around the family they had to leave behind."

Taft said the Web site is easy to use, maintain and promote with the hope that its simplicity will enable it to outlive her as first lady. The site also has a feedback mechanism where families and servicemembers can provide feedback on ways to improve its usability and content, she said.

The first lady began the initiative and started to recruit Ohio businesses in 2003, after hearing about a similar project in Minnesota from its first lady, Mary Pawlenty.

Taft said the Ohio National Guard has been a big help in getting the word out about the Web site. "They have very strong family-support system that we rely on to get the word out," the first lady said.

Businesses and organizations that would like to offer volunteer services, product and service discounts or other opportunities to help the families of deployed military personnel are encouraged to register online. About a hundred businesses and organizations currently are involved, Taft said.

She said it is important for the community to support the military spouses left behind after a deployment because they are burdened with having to do everything at home themselves. "There's a lot responsibilities that you share with your partner, and then if that partner has to go away everything becomes much more difficult," she said. "It's important that the community doesn't forget about the family that's left behind."

Taft also sends letters to Ohio troops serving overseas to "encourage them to encourage their families to look at the Web site," she said, "and also to thank them for their service."

In addition, Taft is heavily involved in alcohol and drug prevention. With the aid of the Ohio Departments of Mental Health, Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, the Veterans Affairs Department and the Ohio National Guard, she helped start the "Ohio Cares" program, which works to get servicemembers substance abuse counseling if a problem exists.

"It's a way for families and service personnel to get counseling if there is substance abuse," Taft said. "Ohio Cares links service people and their families to counseling help or whatever they need."

The Ohio first lady said that substance abuse can be particularly acute among military personnel, not only because of the stress involved with deployments, but also because of the reintegration with the family when they return.

"Military families need support because it's hard enough to raise a family in normal circumstances," Taft said. "To me it's really important to support the people who are doing their duty to the country. And it's just as important to support their families."

Related Sites:

On the Ohio Homefront []

America Supports You []

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