From the Homefront: Building communities through spouse clubs

Amanda Murray was looking for a way to build a stronger community at Coast Guard Station Grand Isle, Louisiana. The Coast Guard recognizes the integral part spouses’ clubs can play in granting a sense of belonging and community to families by providing support and fellowship or offering education or community service.

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Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of requirements and analysis at Coast Guard headquarters, for 14 years. She currently serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network.

Written by Shelley Kimball

From the Homefront
One of many event sponsored by the spouse club at Coast Guard Station Grand Isle was a Halloween party for the Coast Guard members and families. Photo courtesy of Amanda Murray.

 

Amanda Murray was looking for a way to build a stronger community at Coast Guard Station Grand Isle, Louisiana.

“It is a challenging place to come,” said Murray. “People are a little scared when they get here. I want them to embrace where they are. I am one of those people who truly believes you have to enjoy your journey.”

Station Grand Isle is a small boat station on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. It is about 45 minutes away from most services like stores, restaurants and doctor’s offices.

Murray, whose husband is the commanding officer at the station, said she wanted to encourage interaction both among Coasties but also with the other residents in their area.

“That is really how they are going to flourish,” she said. “Getting out there, getting beyond the gate.”

So, with the help of the National Council of Coast Guard Spouse’s Clubs, she started a social club for families. As of last fall, her group became the official Grand Isle Coast Guard Spouse’s Club.

Photo by Bill Keefrey.
Photo by Bill Keefrey.

The national council is made up of Coast Guard spouses who help provide resources and advisory support to spouse’s clubs. The council also acts as a central location to find Coast Guard spouse’s clubs across the country.

The Coast Guard recognizes the integral part spouses’ clubs can play in granting a sense of belonging and community to families by providing support and fellowship or offering education or community service. Recently, an updated Commandant’s Instruction revised the guidance regarding spouse’s clubs and clarified policies about using Coast Guard names and insignias, fundraising, and clarifying command support of spouses’ clubs. The information is meant as guidance to spouses’ clubs because they are private groups. However, if the clubs want to become sanctioned by command and have access to Coast Guard facilities, then there are some requirements.

Some general guidance from the Coast Guard about spouses’ clubs that are sanctioned by commands:

• They can use a station’s name in their club names as long as they get approval from the commanding officer or officer in charge, but they may not use the Coast Guard’s logo or insignia. They must also make their status as a private group clearly identifiable.
• Spouses’ clubs can use facilities on Coast Guard stations with permission from the commanding officer or officer in charge.
• Spouses’ clubs can fundraise, but they may not do so on behalf of the command or imply that the Coast Guard endorses the fundraising.

The national council can act as a liaison to help a spouse’s club affiliate with the local command, according to Barbara Day, the chairperson of the council.

From the Homefront
One of the first events hosted by the spouse’s club was a ‘Family Day’ – an event to bring together Coast Guard families and members of the outside community, including local businesses, churches, along with social and community groups, to share information. Photo courtesy of Amanda Murray.

“The process to affiliate with the national council completes the requirements that allows the local club to be officially recognized by the local command and, in doing so, allows the club to access command assets such as meeting and event space as well as additional support assets if the purpose of the club activity is for the benefit of all unit members,” Day said.

Then, in turn, the affiliated club’s information and resources are listed on the national council’s website, making it easier for prospective members to find the club.

“I think that spouses’ clubs are important as a support system to our Coast Guard families,” Day said. “They can serve as a great resource for incoming members and their families to get a sense of their new duty station as well as get answers to questions specific to their families own situation. They can really help filter through the abundance of information a family is facing when PCSing and help that new family integrate into their new surroundings as quickly and efficiently as possible. They can be a source of fast friendships and support giving you the opportunity to be a part of a group that understands the challenges that the military life presents.”

That is exactly Murray’s goal with the new spouse’s club in Grand Isle. Because the location can feel remote, especially on arrival, the spouse’s club tries to ensure that every new family gets a welcome packet of information and a hot meal when they get there.

“The grocery store can close at two,” Murray said. “If you’ve just moved, and you have a gaggle of children with you, and you are exhausted, you may have no place to go but the gas station.”

The packet of information has information about housing, schedules of events and a full, detailed list of medical offices. The doctor comes to the island once a week, so it is especially important to know where to get help if you are sick on the other six days.

“If you are sick on Wednesday, you are lucky,” she said with a laugh.

The club has also started sponsoring a kind of business expo to bring outside businesses to Coast Guard families to show them what is available.

Coast Guard Station Grand Isle logo Murray said the club helped formalize all of these ideas and make it easier to bring them to life. She relied on the national council to follow a step-by-step plan to get started and to help her develop the club’s bylaws.

One of the first questions a burgeoning club should tackle, Day said, is to determine whether to be a club that serves the immediate needs of currently serving members, or to be a club that lasts beyond the next few years.

If the club is to be informal and disband when the current members move away, then it is not as necessary to develop a formal board and bylaws, Day said.

“But if the intent is to create a resource that will exist after the founding members move on, then you will want to consider a more established model,” Day said.

The national council can provide guidance on how to develop a small social club to a larger fundraising club, and anything in between. Another tip from Day – for those clubs that need the more formal structure with bylaws, make sure there is a parliamentarian in place to help provide organization to responding to the issues that may come before the group.

Grand Isle Coast Guard Spouse’s Club is now formalized and affiliated with the Coast Guard station, which means it can continue long beyond those who are currently serving. Murray said she looks forward to watching the club continue provide camaraderie among the families stations there, and to build bridges into the community.

“The spouse’s clubs give a really good catapult to the community,” Murray said. “I hope people leave happy. I hope they realize that while they were here, this was a pretty neat experience. I hope the spouse’s club brings them together and helps them feel connected.”

Resources:

Coast Guard policy on spouses’ clubs

National Council of Coast Guard Spouses’ Clubs

Do you belong to a great spouse’s club? Do you have questions about affiliated spouse’s clubs? Let us know in the comments below!

From the Homefront
The planned family day was a way for community members to engage with Coast Guard families. Photo courtesy of Amanda Murray.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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