VIRGINIA BEACH, VA, UNITED STATES
Story by Michelle Stewart
In a small wooden-façade building on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, that formerly housed the United Service Organization Center and lunch counter, is the small organization with a larger mission than providing weekly lunch meals.
The USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia (USO HRCV) Healthy Military Family Initiative offers a unique and holistic approach to healthy eating by providing service members and their families with connection to food resources, healthy eating education, opportunities in financial wellness and spouse employment information.
Two Parts of One whole
The Healthy Military Family Initiative Center, Building 1604, located at 1604 Amphibious Drive near the Cove Marina, is the first prong of this program. The HMFI provides emergency food supplies for service members who are struggling to put food on the table. They also offer a bi-monthly distribution of food, healthy cooking classes with a chef, cooking on a budget classes and a new initiative of budgeting classes coordinated with Fleet and Family Service Centers and community partners.
“Members who are in need are directed to the HMFI by their commands or the Warfighter and Family Support Center,” said USO Executive Director Paula Moran. “We feel that this program now offers more of an impact for our military and their families than just providing lunches through the week. We are looking to improve the physical, emotional and mental wellness of our military and their families,” she said. “We want to help military members get out of their current situation and be able to take care of themselves and their families.”
“This assistance is a temporary fix,” said Kenny Miller, Center Operations and Program Manager. “Our goal is to help educate service members on how to best take care of their families. Not everyone learned how to budget or cook healthy, so we are here to help bridge that gap.”
The shelves in the facility are lined with food provided from various sources to include NEX and Fort Story Holmes food drives, and donations from the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore. Distribution takes place on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
The USO Hampton Roads and Central Virginia Outdoor Adventure Team, Building 3370, located at 3135 11th Street, is the second prong of this program. OAT is a peer-led health and wellness program designed for service members and their families to connect over physical challenges to encourage sustainable healthy living.
The team focuses on four core pillars: wellness, sleep, nutrition and resiliency. Additionally, the program has the adaptability to include wounded, ill, and injured service members as a supplement to their ongoing physical rehabilitation efforts. The facility hours of operation are Monday – Friday 0700 to 1500.
During the holidays, the USO HRCV will be taking holiday cheer to the single service members in the barracks. A Mobile Holiday party is planned that will provide games and goodie bags. The schedule for JEBLCFS is December 4, 9 a.m. – noon.
Another Program is Operation Holiday Spirit. This program is for families who may be experiencing difficulties through the holiday season. Through this program, our local USO connects businesses and individual applicants vetted through commands. A wish list is sent to the adoptee so members can purchase gifts the families could not otherwise afford. This program helps to bridge the gap between these military families and the community. Commands should download the form to submit nominations.
Individuals can chose to donate to this program as well. More information can be found at https://hrcv.uso.org/programs/operation-holiday-spirit.
In addition to the nutrition assistance and education, the USO HMFI offers a wealth of information on transition services for military personnel and their families.
“The USO Pathfinder Transition Program helps members create a plan for life after the military service through free one-on-one support,” said Kenny Miller, USO Center Operations Program Manager.
“This program offers professional credentialing and certification that will help both the military member and spouse while on active duty and in the transition process. The program’s focus areas are education, employment, financial readiness, mentoring and veteran’s benefits. Additional information can be found at www.USO.org/transition.
“We are excited to be partnering with ASYMCA which allows us to make a greater impact,” said Christina Wyman, Hampton Roads and Central Virginia Senior Administrative and Operations Manager. “While military members are aware of the Navy Marine Corps Relief, the Warfighter and Support Center and American Red Cross, we want them to know that we are an additional resource for our service members as well.”