AMES, Iowa--Chris Gleason said yes when Heather Stephenson, then director of the Story County Empowerment Board, asked her to serve on the board, although Gleason's schedule could have justified saying no.
That one yes, however, allowed Gleason, the Iowa State University (ISU) Extension 4-H coordinator for Operation Military Kids (OMK), to network with other volunteers. One was Jerri Heid, youth services specialist for the Ames Public Library, and another was Carol Alexander Phillips, a retired child development specialist.
"Volunteers are the heart of the 4-H program," Gleason said. "We have 12,000 volunteers statewide and value each one of them. There are many ways to volunteer for 4-H besides being a 4-H leader."
When Gleason needed to assemble a team to create a circulating library for OMK, she had three ready volunteers in Stephenson, Heid and Phillips. Phillips then recruited Mackenzie Wilson, an ISU child development specialist. A fifth team member turned out to be Gleason's neighbor, Mary Hulleman, a retired middle school media specialist.
The OMK book project will serve rural Iowa communities that lack resources to support geographically dispersed military kids. The group selects books to help military kids deal with separation issues, develop coping and problem solving skills, learn about other cultures and geographic regions and feel pride for their military family members.
Before we recommend a book, we get input from military parents and kids, Gleason said. Stephenson, a military spouse, and her daughter Chelsea fill that role along with Tabatha Commins and her children Philip and Katie.
Books are divided into four age levels: preschool, lower elementary, middle school and high school. Once completed, the collection will be available to 365 public school districts and 194 private schools through the van delivery system of 11 Area Education Agencies. The collection also will be available at Iowa National Guard Family Assistance Centers. A booklist will be available on the Iowa OMK Web site (www.extension.iastate.edu/4H/omk/Index.htm) under resources.
Other materials with the books encourage military kids to write their own stories or draw pictures about how deployment has affected them and their families. Military kids have the opportunity to put their stories into three ring binders that will be circulated throughout the state for other military kids and the public to read. The binders will eventually be shared with policy makers on the local, state and national level as a part of Speak Out for Military Kids.