Farmington organizing to support veterans, military families
Annette Kuyper exudes energy and, dressed in jeans and a hoodie when I first met her, I assumed she was in her mid-30s. She probably isn't much older than that, actually, but she's already been through the deployment of her son to Iraq.
With her son safely back home, Annette is eager to make sure other families have the support they need before, during and after a military deployment. In addition to speaking to groups as a volunteer with the Minnesota National Guard, she is organizing others to work together to address needs and take advantage of opportunities in her hometown of Farmington, where there is a strong tradition of military service.
After a reintegration awareness session organized by the National Guard last June, a National Guard sergeant who lives in Farmington, the city administrator, and Annette formed a small group to plan and take action. They knew others would want to be involved - and that they needed others involved if they were going to have an impact.
Annette made a list of key people to invite to a planning meeting: military families, and people from churches, schools, and local VFW and American Legion posts. She used her own network and did some cold calling, sending letters to 18 local churches and following up with phone calls and emails.
On a Tuesday evening earlier this month, more than 20 residents met at the brand new city hall as the Farmington Warrior to Citizen group. Annette led the discussion, making sure that everyone had an opportunity to talk while sticking closely to the agenda she'd set. When the meeting concluded - right on time - several people had made commitments to take action.
Three student advocates (aka school counselors) had made a commitment to explore training for teachers on how children are impacted by military deployments. Others, including Annette, had committed to work with Germaine and Grant Beyl, whose two sons have done multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Beyls' annual haunted house fundraiser has gotten too big for them to host on their farm, so they're expanding to the Dakota County Fairgrounds; this year, in addition to raising funds to send care packages to combat soldiers overseas, the event will feature a "wall of honor" - created by community members - with photos and dates of service of veterans and active military personnel. The Farmington group hopes that putting together the wall will help them identify local military families, a first step in making sure there's an adequate support network. (The haunted house will take place Oct. 10 and 11 from 7 - 11 p.m.)
I don't know about you, but I've been at community meetings that seem to go on and on before people leave - tired - with some fuzzy ideas about who's supposed to do what. This meeting was energizing (did I mention that there were door prizes?), and several people left with a public commitment to do some achievable piece of work that is in their self-interest. With success from those early actions, and leadership from Annette, the Farmington Warrior to Citizen group will be able to organize more people and take on longer-term work. They've already set their next meeting for an evening in November.