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The First Yellow Ribbon City in Minnesota?

In September we wrote about residents of Farmington, Minn., who had formed a Warrior to Citizen group to support recent veterans and military families through deployment and reintegration.

The group includes veterans and military families going back to the Korean War, a city staff person, teachers, and others. They lead busy lives. But in less than two months, they helped a local family take their annual “support the troops? fundraiser public, created a display honoring the military service of over 50 men and women in Farmington, and organized others to contribute their time and ideas.

We’ll check in periodically with the Farmington Warrior to Citizen group’s leader, Annette Kuyper, about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

wall_of_heroes.jpg

The Farmington Warrior to Citizen group created this "wall of heroes" to recognize military service members.

Center for Democracy and Citizenship: What’s on the agenda for your November meeting?

Annette Kuyper: In January or February there will be a deployment of 1,100 soldiers from our area, and we want to be organized before that. At our meeting this week we’ll discuss volunteer opportunities - both how vets can volunteer in the community and how we can volunteer to help military families. We are also going to talk about fundraising.

This month we’re also going to interview a handful of soldiers for the Warrior to Citizen oral history project and host a lunch for them and older vets at the Farmington VFW. At the lunch we’ll ask for their ideas on how a mentor program might look here in Farmington and begin to put together a plan.

Further out, we’re looking for a site for a luncheon and tea for mothers and grandmothers of military service members to be held around Mothers Day, in April we are partnering with the National Guard Family Network to provide training for our school teachers and administrators at their spring meetings, and we’ll hold a military family picnic in conjunction with a University of Minnesota student athlete sports program on the Dakota County Fairgrounds.

Center for Democracy and Citizenship: The Farmington Warrior to Citizen group has 20 to 30 members, mostly people you recruited plus some folks who found out about the Warrior to Citizen Campaign because of the “wall of heroes? you displayed at the October “support the troops? haunted house. How else are you organizing people?

Annette Kuyper: Slowly our churches are responding. Scott Mills (a National Guard officer who lives in Farmington) and I are speaking at our second local church this Sunday about Warrior to Citizen as well as how they can become a military-friendly church. Out of 18 churches that I have been deluging with correspondence and e-mails, four have shown some interest.

It is a tricky situation to convince them it is not about creating a view on any type of war/conflict, that we are about supporting military families. One church has been consistent about sending a representative to the meetings. We will keep at it as the more we can get out there what our mission is, the more responsive our churches will be. We may start by asking one of the churches to host the Mothers Tea next spring.

We have met with the local VFW and American Legion leaders who have agreed to send reps to all of our meetings. We have partnered with them on fundraising possibilities, free space usage, and veterans communication. I also e-mail an update after each event and monthly meeting to our mayor and city council members so they know what is being done and can help us become "walking commercials.? In addition, I send information to a local newspaper reporter after each meeting to keep her in the loop. She did a nice article on the front page of the Farmington Independent.

Center for Democracy and Citizenship: You make this work look easy, but there must be challenges.

Annette Kuyper: Our biggest challenge is to get the soldiers within the community to self-identify. Since we cannot get phone numbers due to privacy issues, we have to continue to be a presence in the community so they come forward. I received two phone calls as a result of the [Farmington Independent] newspaper article just this evening, and I am hoping for more. Having Warrior to Citizen volunteers give back to the community and help spread the word will be another way we can have more service members come forward.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs