For all young families just starting military life, the new way of living can be overwhelmingly daunting.
But because of the efforts of the Armed Services YMCA, military families at Fort Bliss are receiving the help they need to make the transition a little easier.
“Though our young military members get housing and medical care, the truth is they don’t really make very much money,” said Diana Bengson, Armed Services YMCA development manager.
“Lots of times they have multiple children, usually the spouse stays at home because the service member is always away on training or deployment. So it’s basically a one-income household. We try to help with all the challenges of military life.”
The Armed Services YMCA of El Paso, which was established in 1921, is one of the oldest nonprofits in the city solely devoted to helping military personnel and their families by providing social, educational and recreational programs.
“We try to be the bridge between El Paso and Fort Bliss – one community together,” Bengson said. “We depend on the generosity of the community to provide these programs and services to our military families. We’re not funded by the government.”
Some of those programs include a Family Center, which is a no-cost thrift store; and the Child Development Center, which focuses on children’s needs.
There’s also an Anti-Hunger program which provides anyone 18 years of age or younger, (military or non-military) a free healthy dinner from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 7061 Comington – no questions asked. Breakfast and lunch is included during the summer months.
Now an employee at ASYMCA, Shawna Hall knows first-hand how important the organization’s work is.
“Six years ago, my husband was stationed overseas in Japan for a year and we went through a lot of hardship and they were there to help me and my three kids,” Hall said.
She has volunteered since 2017 and was hired as a program coordinator at the Junior Enlistment Family Center in July.
“Through the programs, I was able to make friends almost immediately, and you don’t know how much that helps when you’re in a strange place starting a new life. It’s so gratifying to be able to help others,” Hall said.
“I’m especially able to inform the families how the programs work having gone through it myself. It helps because I know exactly what they’re going through.”
With the holidays quickly approaching, two events are up coming.
“To take away the financial burden of having to purchase a Thanksgiving meal, we’re providing turkey dinners so the families can focus on spending time together,” Bengson said. “Our goal is to provide a Thanksgiving dinner to 400-500 young military families this year.
“We’re also gearing up for our Cookies with Santa event, where we give away age-appropriate toys to our military children.
“Military life can be especially difficult on the children, so
they are our top priority.”