Evaluating Military Family Programs to Achieve Better Results

Friday Field Notes

As I develop this blog in the coming months, I aim to do a few things – to feature great examples of programs, projects and research that connect the land grant university system with military communities; and to offer access to resources that may be useful to the professionals working with the military population.Doing Translational Research Podcast

Today I’d like to feature the podcast, Doing Translational Research
: Evaluating Military Family Programs
from Cornell University’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR). The research at BCTR works to address the most pressing human problems and translate their research into practice. The purpose of the Doing Translational Research podcast is to feature conversations from researchers, practitioners and others involved in translational research and explore their work in a way that connects to the professionals in the field.

Dr. Brian Leidy - Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research - Director of The Military Projects
Dr. Brian Leidy – Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research – Director of The Military Projects

In episode 8, Evaluating Military Family Programs¸ Karl Pillemer interviews Dr. Brian Leidy, Director of The Military Projects at BCTR. The Military Projects program has been doing research and evaluation of military programs for 25 years. The program develops outreach, public awareness materials, training and education for professional development, as well as offering evaluation expertise and technical assistance to a variety of family support programs in all branches of the U.S. Military. The results of their projects have influenced practice and policies that continue to improve the quality of life for military service members and their families by building resiliency and preventing/reducing risky behaviors.

According to Dr. Leidy, military communities have a very specific set of problems and issues that they face, because they are the most racially, ethnically, culturally and socio-economically diverse community that exists in today’s world. In the last 25 years, the family support programs that have developed are responding to the challenges facing this community which,

“…changed dramatically in 2003 with the 2 major Gulf Wars, Iraq & Afghanistan, the level of troop involvement and the way they returned. Roughly 2 million service members were deployed and roughly 300,000 returned with traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, physical injuries. This changed family support programs in the military.” (Leidy)

Dr. Leidy states that there are programs to address these problems but the issues that now have a higher focus are the secondary effects on families of service members who have experienced these problems, such as financial issues, family separations, or child/spouse abuse.

If you think back to the post-Vietnam War era and the challenges those soldiers returned to, then compare them to the soldiers of today, it seems to me that the needs of military communities may have  become clearer in recent decades, resulting in the a whole new range of support programs.

Dr. Leidy says that most of the evaluations run by The Military Projects are for family support programs. These programs are effective and meet the needs of those that they work with, their biggest challenge is engaging their target audience. The Military Projects focus on what the barriers are for those that need access to family support programs. When evaluating these programs “the focus should not be on outcome evaluation – but process evaluation. You can be 100% successful with everyone that goes through your program, but if you are only engaging 40% of your target audience – you are only 40% successful.”

I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Leidy today and I asked the question, out of all the research and evaluations he has been involved in, is there any advice he can provide for professionals that are challenged with accessing their target audience. He stated that “the biggest obstacle to success is the inability to engage the right individuals – they may not identify with the goals of your program, or there is a stigma attached to your services.” He suggested strategizing to determine how to best reach the individuals that are disengaged. “One way to get to the target audience is not to focus on the deficit but to go the route of asset building. For example, 4-H is a gateway to get families into the system – [the educators that work with 4-H] recognize when families need help with finances, substance abuse, etc.” What I take from this is that communicating your mission to local 4-H educators (or any organization) may help you to use that organization as an asset, which will help to fill your deficit. Of course not everyone has children so 4-H may not work for those individuals – in which case your strategy may require a varied approach to building capacity.

The ultimate message here is that the evaluation process can strengthen the impact of programs for military families and add value that can lead to further support and resources in the future, but the strategy lies in evaluating the process before the outcomes.



For access to the podcast as well as related resources, check out the links below.
Doing Translational Research: Evaluating Military Family Programs

The Military Projects, Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research

2016 Military Caregiving VLE #1 – Reflection


How well do you manage the three communication goals that influence every interaction that you have with others?

Three goals have a profound impact on the outcome of every interpersonal exchange that we have with others.  These goals are typically unstated and participants in the same conversation often have no idea which of these goals may be motivating those with whom they interact.

During any given conversation, these goals may cooperate, compete or clash as they silently influence the course of each interpersonal exchange.  Interactions with others are so profoundly impacted by these powerful goals that efforts to address our most significant needs may be jeopardized or completely abandoned.  Imbalance among these goals can lead to interpersonal conflict and failure to achieve communication priorities.

In the Military Families Learning Network training webinar, Communication for Interpersonal Relationships, Dr. Leanne Knobloch, Ph.D., Professor and Director of Graduate Studies of Communication at the University of Illinois explained that individuals may tend to be motivated more frequently by one of the goals than others in efforts to communicate.   This may be especially true in times of stress.

Learning how to recognize and manage each of the three hidden goals can help us more effectively navigate interactions with others.  To assess the communication goal or goals that most frequently influence your communication efforts, see the chart below.

  1. Instrumental Goals – The priority is the achievement of tangible resources or favors that we would like to get from others.
  1. Relational Goals– The priority is preserving or altering the status of our relationship with others.
  1. Self-Presentational Goals– The priority is the projection of an image of ourselves to others.

Dr. Knobloch offers evidence-based strategies to help reduce the dangers associated with juggling these communication goals.   One strategy includes the use of High Person-Centered Messages.   High Person-Centered Messages help promote a sense of mutual respect and have been shown through research to be effective in efforts to provide comfort.

If you would like to learn more about using High Person Centered Messages and other evidence-based communication strategies, watch the Military Families Learning Network webinar:  Communication for Interpersonal Relationships.  Complete the post-session quiz to receive available CEU’s.

 This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on December 9, 2016.

Laughing at the Frustrating and Embracing Quiet Moments


Jayden Serck is a new military wife.  After graduating from college with a Human Development and Family Studies degree, she married Jordan, her high school sweetheart, who graduated from college a year earlier with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing.  When Jordan joined the Air Force with a direct commission they encountered multiple transitions in their young married life.  Jordan traveled from South Dakota to Alabama for training before they traveled together to their first duty station at Travis Air Force base in California.  Jayden is not new to military service as her mother served in the Army National Guard and her father is currently serving in the Air National Guard.  However, being a spouse of an active duty Service member is new.  In this blog Jayden shares her experience as they encounter a variety of transitions.  

The Letter

It’s real.  It’s here.  When the letter came in the mail it was proof that Jordan (my husband) had been accepted to the US Air Force and the process had officially begun.  It was exciting and full of unknowns.  During this time, we quickly learned the “hurry up and wait” motto of the military!  There was so much to be done, yet each step required completion of a previous task in order to proceed.  At this point in our journey, we learned to not stress too much about anything.  Jordan was in close contact with his  recruiter and prepared for his first PT (Physical Training) test at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station).

The Separation

Jordan left our home in South Dakota to attend four weeks of commissioned officer training in Alabama.  We decided that I would not join him in Alabama so that I could continue working and make plans for our big move to Travis Air Force Base in California.  Whether it be basic training, commissioned officer training (aka COT), deployment, temporary assignment (aka TDY), or any other sort of event that causes spouses and families to be separated from their Service member, it is best to appreciate time alone and reflect on the reasons why the marriage and love is worthwhile and strengthening throughout this process.  Keeping busy is also HUGE (or “youge” as Donald Trump would say) for staying sane.  Picking up extra hours at work or spending time with friends and new acquaintances made the time fly for me.

The past few months I’ve really been able to live out my New Year’s Resolution to the fullest (it’s possible!). In December 2015, I decided I needed to start saying “yes” when asked to do something, no matter how lazy I’d rather be.  By doing so, I have met so many new friends, changed my lifestyle and made wonderful memories.  For example,  I recently took a trip to Santa Clara with a family I’ve met just once to go to a FREE Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Old Dominion and Sam Hunt concert  (check our Vet Tix if you have not yet to see how).  I anticipated that this experience would be uncomfortable at first, but it was an opportunity I will probably never get again. I want to live my life to the fullest; regardless of whether the outcome of the experience is positive or negative.

The Move & In-processing

I found it extremely valuable to participate in Jordan’s graduation ceremony!  Going to Jordan’s graduation helped me visualize and understand what he had experienced the previous month.  Alabama was crazy humid and I give all of those officers props for staying disciplined in 100% humidity. After the graduation, everyone was kicked off Maxwell AFB and were on a timeline to get to their first duty station. We took advantage of this time! After being separated for a month, things fell back into place very quickly.  It was like being on a mini vacation. We were able to visit landmarks in 10 states and spent a night in Las Vegas on our way to California.

We found that we spent a lot of money during the move.  We learned that waiting on housing can take months, and it is likely military families may need to sleep in hotels and temporary lodging for at least one month. A certain amount of these expenses are  reimbursed, however that can take a long time (it took about two months for our travel pay to come through) so budgeting is necessary! We’ve also learned that it is common for the LES (paystub) to be messed up after the member starts working too, so be sure to constantly be checking.

Arriving on base was a relief, but was a high paced environment.  Jordan was thrown into trainings immediately, before spending 10 days  house hunting (we definitely utilized these too!). House hunting was easily the most stressful part of our PCS.  We felt we needed to get housing immediately and didn’t have a clue where to look.  We were incredibly fortunate to be offered on-base housing within three weeks of arriving on base and moved in two weeks after being offered the house.  That meant, we obviously well exceeded our 10 day allotment.  After putting down a non-refundable $200 deposit on an apartment, we didn’t even sweat the loss, knowing we’d have an additional 1000 square feet and live in a secured, safe neighborhood.

Spouse Employment

A lot of spouses choose to work, and a lot do not. Many stay home with their children or have in-home daycares (which they must set up through a base Human Resources; at Travis it is through NAF or nonappropriated funds).  Many spouses, like myself, choose to find a job as soon as possible. After looking at a lot of options on and off base, I found www.NAFjobs.org. NAF hires for most of the amenities on base such as lodging, child development centers, and recreational buildings.  The process can go quick like it did for me (1-2 weeks) or take much longer (1-2 months – especially for childcare jobs that require FBI fingerprint results to be returned before starting). There are many HR offices on base though for GS jobs (www.USAjobs.com) and AAFES jobs at the BX and commissary. My biggest piece of advice here is to really consider all of your options and choose a job that will make you happy rather than trying to get a job as fast as possible.

Continuing our Community

The most helpful resources in terms of getting to know the area were spouses’ Facebook pages and both Jordan and my co-workers.  Within a few days, we had been invited to multiple gatherings and dinner parties by co-workers.  They let us know good and bad areas to live, and places in the area that are must sees. People are always flooding on and off the base, so going to any on-base events or parties that may be offered are crucial in establishing friendships and long-term happiness.

I also decided to start a snail mail fund to keep in touch with family and friends back home. Social media is great, but it is so nice to send and receive little presents and letters to keep in touch. Skype is great, too, of course and holding ourselves to calling when we say we will has been important as well.

Overall, our transition was very smooth and we are now happily settled in our California home and life!  We learned to laugh at the ridiculously frustrating things and embrace the quiet little moments. Whatever life brings our way, we will be together and are in a caring and helpful community full of people who closely relate to everything we are experiencing.

Field Talk: A Q&A with Providers Supporting Military Families

Title Field Talk: A Q&A with Providers Supporting Military Families
DiPietro-Wells, R. (2015). Field Talk: A Q&A

Field Talk is a monthly blog post sharing the voices of early childhood providers who serve or have served military families of young children with disabilities (birth to 5 years old).  We hope you find it to be educational, personable, and encouraging.

This month we talked with Monique Baker, MA, BCBA.  Ms. Baker is a Behavior Analyst and co-owner of Effective Interventions.  This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is a BCBA?

A BCBA is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and is a credential offered by an international board (BACB).  In order to receive this credential, a person must earn a Master’s degree in an approved program, acquire 1500 supervised fieldwork hours, and pass an exam.  While many people who become a BCBA may work in the field with children or adults with autism or similar populations, a behavior analyst can also work in many other areas or fields as ABA is the applied science of behavior and is applicable across many areas.

Describe your current role.

I am the co-owner of the company Effective Interventions, which serves children with Autism and related disorders using Applied Behavior Analysis. Sara Carbone (the other co-owner) and I serve as program directors running the ins and outs of the business, as well as continuing to provide one- on -one therapy for children, supervising Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs), and conducting parent training and collaborating with teachers and other providers. We have 5 BCBAs and 5 RBTs that we supervise. We have run this company since December 2014.

What’s your favorite part of your current job?

My favorite parts of my job are working with parents and helping them develop strategies and interventions, and being able to see changes in their everyday routines that affect not just their children’s lives, but their whole families lives and interactions. I also love working with kids one on one and could never give that up. There’s nothing better than seeing a child use a new skill that you have been working on in a meaningful and functional way, or watching a child communicate with his/her parents or peers for the first time in a way they haven’t been able to do before.

Tell us about experiences you have had working with military families.

We are so fortunate in our area to work with a large number of military families. Over 75% of our clients are active or retired military and it is such an honor to be able to serve the children of these families who give so much to our country. Many times these children have frequent transitions and it is so important to be able to help families provide consistent high-quality care for their children. I have worked with some families for 6-7 years, which I believe creates consistency of care when you know a child and family that well and can help them deal with changes due to deployments and other changes to routines. I feel that focusing on parent training and support is especially meaningful and important to families for oftentimes one parent may be the sole caretaker for extended periods of time and need additional support during those times. It has been my experience that military families are incredible advocates for their children and the services that they need to receive. It’s been a great learning experience working with them and collaborating with other providers along the way.

How did you come to work with military families?

I have worked in the field of ABA, and with children with developmental disorders or delays, for 15 years. I was lucky enough, when I moved to this area 10 years ago, to begin to work with primarily military families due to my location around the Fort Bragg area. The fact that TRICARE began covering ABA therapy in NC before other insurance companies in our state, impacted who became my clients.

Describe a rewarding experience working with military families.

I have had so many rewarding experiences working with military families. Some of the most rewarding ones came from working with families over a long period of time and seeing their children develop skills over time. I have worked with children from a very young age, when there was very little to no verbal communication, and have been able to get to a point where we are working on higher level skills such as developing self-monitoring and higher level social and conversational skills. It’s also been very rewarding to have families come to you to discuss a child’s problem behavior that they have not been able to decrease and to figure out the function of the behavior and teach the child an appropriate replacement skill and see that problem behavior reduced until it is no longer present.

Describe a challenging experience working with military families.

I think the most challenging part of working with military families can be trying to help families while dealing with the wait times and challenges of enrolling in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). Another challenge surrounds understanding and being able to navigate the authorization process to begin services quickly when their child and family desperately need services to begin quickly. Communication with TRICARE has been challenging in the past, but they are definitely putting measures into place to speed up and simplify this process, and we have seen a positive evolution of that over the last few years.

From your experience, how are military families similar and different from other types of families? How do you change your practice between families?

We approach every client and situation as an individual and we design treatments and programs based on the unique skills and family dynamics surrounding each client. That being said we recognize that military families definitely face more challenges with changes to routines, and they may need more support when one family member is deployed or even when that family member returns. For example, additional parent trainings are needed to make sure everyone understands and implements a treatment plan in a similar manner. As a result of how much we see this type of situation in the military population, we have created a structure for all of our clients to promote a high amount of parent training and involvement. In addition, to frequent parent trainings we provide monthly updates that are sent to all members of a child’s team including the parents so that everyone is consistently updated on progress and treatment goals and on the same page with interventions and procedures.

As providers, how can we support military parents who are deployed or away frequently due to trainings/school?  

As I mentioned above, frequent communication is crucial. We make sure that, if possible, emails are sent to the deployed parent; these contain updated progress reports and treatment plans. We recognize that when a military parent comes home, additional time and support may be needed for the parent who has been gone for an extended amount of time.

Describe a specific stressor that military families with whom you have worked have shared or experienced.

I think a feeling of isolation or being overwhelmed is very common with parents with whom we work, especially when their spouse is deployed. Oftentimes families move to a new area and then a spouse is deployed leaving the remaining parent to care for their children alone in a new area. Also, there are the additional stressors that come with having a child or children with autism such as taking care of those children on your own with limited to no babysitting or respite, limited adult interactions, and the need to schedule multiple therapies and doctor’s appointments to name a few. It has been my experience that military parents are an exceptionally resilient group of parents but the stressors and demands that are placed on them daily are intense and can be very overwhelming.

What “insider” tips or advice do you have for service providers working with military families who have young children with disabilities?

Get to know someone in TRICARE’s authorizations department by name and get his/her contact information! But in all seriousness, I think staying on top of authorizations and the ever-changing authorization requirements and having good communication with your families about what is needed and when it is needed, is key to providing consistent care without interruptions. It is also so important to build relationships with your families and really listen to them and ask what they feel is important for their family and child, and then make sure to include those as goals on the treatment plan. I feel like this is often left out and yet it is so important.

If you could change or improve one thing for military families with young children with disabilities, what would it be?

I think for those of us providing ABA services, I would want increased communication from TRICARE about policy changes or modifications to their programs or procedures, which greatly impacts military families. TRICARE frequently proposes or enacts policy changes without a lot of communication to families and providers; this can be a source of a major stress for families and cause issues with service delivery. I do believe that TRICARE staff has recognized the need for increased communication and they are working on it, but it is still a work in progress.

What types of resources have you sought out to feel more confident and competent at meeting the specific needs of military families? (e.g., trainings, blog posts, organizations, etc.)

TRICARE has recently begun having roundtable discussions with providers in which we can hear proposed policy changes before they are enacted, and then provide feedback or get clarification on policies and procedures. I would highly recommend that all ABA providers attend these. For my colleagues and I, attending these has increased our ability to effectively communicate changes and stay on top of current procedures and upcoming changes, so that families are able to get consistent care without delays in authorizations or other procedures. The Military Families Learning Network (MFLN) has been a great resource that we have more recently discovered; it is a great resource for families we work with, as well as, providers. The Autism Care Demonstration page is a great web page where changes to the Autism Care Demonstration program (which is how children access ABA services through Tricare) are noted.

This post was edited by Robyn DiPietro-Wells & Michaelene Ostrosky, PhD, members of the MFLN FD Early Intervention team, which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.

Whew- that’s a wrap for Personal Finance in 2016!

By Molly C. Herndon

Whew – 90 minutes flew by this morning as Dr. Barbara O’Neill presented the final Personal Finance webinar of 2016. This annual review webinar has become a staple of our programming; this is the third annual review we’ve presented.

"Glow in the Dark Party Social Media Graphic" by Ellie Ong from Marketplace Desginers from Canva.com.
“Glow in the Dark Party Social Media Graphic” by Ellie Ong from Marketplace Desginers from Canva.com.

Always, jam-packed with information, research and issues, these reviews offer insight into the topics that made headlines this year and will make an impact on your wallet next year.

Some especially troubling insights shared in today’s webinar included the finding from the Federal Reserve that states 46% of adults could not cover a $400 emergency expense. This finding is supported by the AP survey that found 76% of Americans making $50,000 annually or less could not cover a $1,000 emergency expense.

More troubling findings included the report that found fewer men ages 24-54 are currently working than were employed near the end of the Great Depression. Coupled with the expense of child care costs, which exceeds the cost of in-state tuition in some areas, and the fact that 1/3 of Millennials are still living at home with parents, and we can open the door to some true insight into the economic state of many Americans.

On a positive note, a decrease in uninsured Americans was found this year. However, high deductibles have increased.The highest deductible on record, at $1,000 for an individual plan, was impacting half of insured workers this year. Research also showed a decline in long-term care insurance. This trend is especially troubling as the oldest Baby Boomers, born in 1946, celebrate their 70th birthdays this year.

More insights were shared about older Americans in today’s webinar. The fastest growing category of workers, either by race or gender, is women older than 65. This could be due to the fact that more 65-year olds have 47% more mortgage debt and 29% more automobile debt than a 65-year old had in 2003. In addition, more 70-year olds are paying off mortgages than ever before.

What finding struck you? There were so many discussion points started in this webinar, and so little opportunity to dig deeper. Please share your thoughts on these issues. Do these findings support what you’re seeing in your own clients?

For a more comprehensive list of the resources shared in todays’ webinar, check out our Twitter stream. Dr. O’Neill also included many of these resources in the Online Resource Guide, found under “Event Materials” on the event’s Learn page. Check out the presentation slides, available here, as well. You can also check the Learn page to rewatch the webinar via the recording or share with a colleague. The recording is usually posted within 24 hours of the live event.

National Influenza Vaccination Week, Why Every Year Counts


By Joanna Manero

National Influenza Vaccination Week December 4-10.  It is truly a privilege to be alive in a time when we have vaccines that can prevent a number of illnesses.  Most vaccines provide antibodies for our body to fight off diseases that are effective for a number of years, or even a lifetime.  However, the flu shot is one that we should renew annually.  In fact, the CDC recommends that U.S. healthcare workers get vaccinated every year.  During the 2014-2015 season, 75% of healthcare workers received the flu vaccination.  Although this number is higher than past years, it is lower than the target of 90% set by the Healthy People 2020. Annual renewal is recommended because the viruses responsible for the flu are different each year.  The vaccine is designed to protect against three or four viruses that research indicates will be the likely cause of the flu that particular year.

The decision of which viruses to protect from each year is one that is not taken lightly.  The World Health Organization (WHO) collaborates with essential regulatory laboratories and representatives of key national laboratories and academies from all over the world to review the results of clinical, laboratory, and surveillance studies.  The WHO then recommends which viruses are likely problematic for the next season.  The final decision of inclusion is taken by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Vaccination is recommended as soon as it becomes available for the season, preferably by October.  Immunity takes about two weeks, so early vaccination is encouraged.  However, it is not too late to get your flu shot if you haven’t already.  The flu can start as early as October but the peak season isn’t until January, or sometimes even later.

So why may some people choose to go without the vaccine?  Several widespread myths surround the vaccine.  Some common myths are:

  • You can catch the flu from the vaccine- This is probably the most common myth. The flu shot contains inactivated viruses that cannot transmit infection.  Immunity takes two weeks to set, and people may catch the flu during the two-week period following the vaccine. However, the vaccine is not the source of the flu.
  • The flu is just a bad cold- Although the flu may give you cold-like symptoms, it can be more deadly. In the United States, 36,000 people die from the flu, and 200,000 are hospitalized each year from the flu.
  • You don’t need a flu shot every year- As stated above, different viruses are responsible for the flu each year. Yearly vaccination is essential.
  • Healthy people don’t need the vaccine- Although vaccination is heavily encouraged for people with chronic illness or who are frail, healthy people can see benefits from routine vaccination.

What are other myths that you have heard against getting a yearly flu shot?  Leave us a comment, and we can attempt to debunk them! 

Although Flu prevention is the main reason people choose to receive the vaccine, it is not the only benefit.

  • Vaccination reduces flu-associated hospitalization for children and older, people with type 2 diabetes, and chronic lung disease
  • Vaccination was associated with less cardiac events in people with heart disease, or other cardiac conditions within the last year.
  • Vaccination is also important for the protection of pregnant women and the developing baby. Immunity is passed to the newborn for the first several months of life.
  • Vaccination can also reduce your symptoms if you get ill, giving you a milder illness. And finally
  • Vaccination creates protection not only for you but those around you.

With all of these incredible benefits and the widespread availability of the Influenza Vaccination, there is no excuse to skip a year.  Make sure you get vaccinated if you haven’t, and encourage others to do the same!

How do you help your friends and family to get the flu shot? 

No flu shot yourself yet?  What is  your excuse?







This was posted by Robin Allen, a member of the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN) Nutrition and Wellness team that aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the MFLN Nutrition and Wellness concentration on our website, on Facebookon Twitterand LinkedIn.

Building Healthy Military Communities Pilot to start in Maryland, highlighting current programs in operation

Friday Field Notes


Last week I introduced a new pilot program, Building Healthy Military Communities (BHMC), which will be launching within the coming months. What is interesting about BHMC is that it is not a self-contained program, but is meant to support the extension of other programs and resources to military service professionals, communities and families. In the coming weeks this blog will cover more information about BHMC, in the meantime I thought it would be appropriate to highlight a program that has been in operation for several years in military communities, Up for the Challenge: Lifetime Fitness, Healthy Decisions. The reason I’m featuring this program is because it is a great example of what can be accomplished when land-grant universities collaborate with military communities, and with Maryland being the first state to pilot BHMC, we can expect program such as this to be further promoted in the future.

The Up For the Challenge curriculum developed through University of Maryland Extension between 2006 and 2012 as a support piece for the Army Child, Youth and School Services Program. The program is supported by the 4-H/Army Youth Development Project, a partnership of the U.S. Army Child, Youth and School Services, 4-H National Headquarters, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland Extension.

The objective of Up for the Challenge is to provide sports directors and youth development workers with tools to create an educational experience that allows them to:

  • Assess youth’s personal goals
  • Plan physical activities for youth, especially those not athletically inclined
  • Eliminate practices that may humiliate youth
  • Incorporate other related curriculum into programming
  • Provide a variety of healthy choices: lifestyle, eating, and physical activity
  • Provide developmentally appropriate nutrition concepts
  • Model positive, simple, consistent nutrition and physical activities messages
  • Focus on knowledge and skills to make healthy personal decisions
  • Teach self-management skills for monitoring goals
  • Teach cooperation, fair play, responsible participation and the joy of being active
  • Promote and encourage healthy lifestyles through activities

carrot-kale-walnuts-tomatoesUp for the Challenge includes fitness, nutrition and health lessons for three age groups K-5th grade, 6th – 8th grade, 9th -12th grade. The curriculum provides learning that is specific to a child’s individual needs and allows each participant to set their own healthy living goals. The program also utilizes the 4-H Experiential Learning Model in which youth are provided with questions, problems, situations or activities that will allow them to draw conclusions based on their own experience.  The curriculum includes 32 lessons in total, divided into five chapters: Back to Basics, Healthy Decisions for Living Well, Fueling the Body, Consumer Challenge, and Activity for Life. Educators using the curriculum can adapt curriculum to their own needs – and have a variety of lessons to choose from to meet their learning goals. Many of the lessons include fitness games, technology challenges and a cooking component including healthy recipes.

Example activities include learning to use nutrition labels to compare drink choices – followed by making a healthy drink as an alternative to unhealthy choices; or at a more advanced level – comparing energy and sports drinks, then learning about alternatives that are healthier, cheaper and provide the same nutrients.

The Up For the Challenge curriculum has been used in recent years to bring nutrition, fitness and healthy lifestyle programming to thousands of youth across the U.S. through Operation Military Kids. The curriculum has been so well received by military youth programs that other youth programs that do not distinctly target military youth have begun to adopt it. If you work with youth and are interested in accessing the Up for the Challenge resources, a PDF version of the curriculum can be found for free at: https://extension.umd.edu/4-h/4-h-program-areas/challenge


Holiday Tips for Families with Special Needs

Boy with Down Syndrome playingThe holiday season is a wonderful time of the year but it can also become a stressful time, especially for  families with special needs. Below, we compiled a few holiday tips for families with special needs, military families, and family caregivers.

Lower your expectations.

Often times we build up this idea in our head of the holidays. We create this fantasy about the perfect holiday, then work hard trying to create it. This tip is essential for families with special needs, however it is a good tip for everyone – lower your expectations. When we are trying to create the perfect holiday, party, reunion, etc. What we are really creating is a load of stress for ourselves which can quickly make the holidays less joyful. Things might work out better than you expected with your lowered expectations, or they might not. But, you will enjoy the time with your loved ones more when you are not trying to live up to high expectations.


Reflect on the season.

Remember that the holiday season is a time for reflection on the year, celebrating being together and a time of joy. Keep the joy in the holidays, by remaining focused on what they mean to you.


Pick two.

If you have a family member with special needs, it likely that you are already very busy with things to do for them and the rest of the family. Don’t intentionally add to the list trying to recreate your perfect holiday. Pick two traditions that are manageable to you and your family. Just focus on implementing or maintaining those two traditions, and enjoy the time you have with your loved ones. Sometimes families try to do too much just to make the holidays perfect, when in reality being together and happy are what makes the holidays perfect.


Be OK with bowing out of events and saying no.

As with all things in life, you have to pick and choose what is best for you and your family. There might be holiday parties that would be more stressful to attend than is necessary. Politely bow out of the event and trust that your family and friends will understand. When preparing and planning for big parties or gatherings volunteer for what you know you are capable of and say no to the rest.


Ask for a break.

It is okay to ask for help and take a break. Use respite services if you qualify, ask for a night off rather than a gift. It is okay to take care of yourself, in fact it’s extremely important.



What other tips do you have for military families, caregivers, or families with special needs?


This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on December 2, 2016.


FD Early Intervention Webinar: Strategies to Support Families Experiencing Difficult Circumstances

Date:  December 8, 2016

Time:  11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EST

Location:  https://learn.extension.org/events/2732

132nd MP Company returns home
“Welcome Home , Mommy!” by The US Army CC BY 2.0 (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Brad Mincey/Released)

Carol Trivette, Ph.D. earned her degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in Child Development and Family Relations.  Her research interests focus on identifying evidence-based practices for working with children and families in the areas of responsive parental interactions with their children with disabilities, family-centered practices and family support, and the development of tools and scales to support the implementation of evidence-based practices with fidelity. She is currently an Associate Professor at East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN.

In this session, Dr. Carol Trivette will cap her yearlong webinar series sharing resources and discussing evidence-based practices that providers can implement when they are working with military families in particular, who are facing difficult situations. Participants are encouraged to engage and share challenges, resources, and successes they have experienced working with families of young children with disabilities.  Join us Dec. 8 at 11:00 a.m. EST!

The MFLN FD Early Intervention team offers continuing education credits through the Early Intervention Training Program (EITP) at the University of Illinois for each of our webinars, click here to learn more. For more information on future presentations in the 2016 Family Development webinar series, please visit our professional development website or connect with us via social media for announcements: (Facebook & Twitter)

Group Lifestyle Balance at Scott Air Force Base

Jogging Couple by Ed Yourdon taken May 31, 2009

Flickr CC Jogging Couple by Ed Yourdon taken May 31, 2009

By Robin Allen

As we wrap up American Diabetes Month I would like to share a program that is being used at some Air Force Bases around the country.

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Cathy Takacs, RD, LDN, Group Lifestyle Balance (GLB) Dietitian for the pre-diabetes and weight loss program at Scott Air Force Base (AFB).  This program was designed to provide education, support, and the tools for GLB members to adopt a healthy lifestyle.  The  GLB program is from the University of Pittsburgh Diabetes Prevention Support Center (DPSC).  This is a non-profit organization, established in 2006 with the goal of preventing diabetes and improving cardiovascular health. The Center was developed with funding from the Department of Defense (DOD), and provides education, training, materials, and support to health professionals for the military and general populations.

Objectives of DPSC:

  • “To facilitate identification of individuals at risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
  • “To reduce the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease by providing training and support for the delivery of the Group Lifestyle BalanceTM program in many diverse settings.”
  • “To maintain and update the materials and resources used in the Group Lifestyle Balance program on a continuous basis.”
  • “To become an established resource and advocate for diabetes prevention for local and national communities.”

Scott AFB

GLB at Scott AFB is a 12-week program based on the 22 lessons from GLB University of Pittsburgh program.  Cathy completed the 2-day lifestyle coach training program at the University of Pittsburgh before starting the program at Scott.  A physician is associated with the program and Cathy orders the lab work for lipid panels, HA1C, and glucose.  Labs are voluntary but help monitor the participant’s progress.

Participants keep food records using MyFitnessPal and Cathy reviews and provides feedback.  Paper food records can be kept if that is the individual’s preference.  Participants are contacted weekly during the first 12 weeks of the program by phone or email.  GLB check-in includes discussion about barriers to success, menu planning, special events etc. Upon completion of the initial 12-week core program, participants follow up with monthly GLB support group sessions such as cooking classes, grocery store tours, and guest speakers.  Examples of guest speakers include Mental Health  to help with self-talk and positive self-image and a yoga instructor who discussed different types of physical activity.  Offering speakers and food demonstration classes on healthy eating has helped with retention and class attendance.

Cathy markets the GLB program through physician referral, social media, the base bulletin, email blasts, Scott AFB Facebook page and the Scott AFB 375th Medical Group.

A total of 40 members had completed the GLB program at Scott AFB with an 80% retention rate and a total weight loss of 74 # when I talked with Cathy earlier this Fall.

The overall goals of Group Lifestyle Balance™Program at Scott AFB:

  • Participate in a one-year Group Lifestyle Balance™ Program that includes
  • Core – consisting of 12 weekly sessions.
  • Transition – consisting of 4 bi-weekly/monthly sessions.
  • Support – consisting of 6 monthly sessions.
  • Self–monitor weight.
  • Lose 7% of weight through healthy eating.
  • Do 150 minutes of brisk, physical activity each week.
  • Track and learn more about healthy eating and physical activity.
  • Learn how to problem-solve and stay motivated.

Cathy’s biggest challenges:

  • Keeping participants coming back and actively engaged.
  • Staying positive even when not losing weight.
  • Being a good listener, letting them speak, accommodating all different personalities.

After completion of the program, participants rate how they like the class and provide suggestions for improvement.

Cathy describes this as a great benefit for military, retirees, and dependents.  For more information on the GLP program, training and materials go to the University of Pittsburgh Diabetes Prevention Support Center (DPSC) http://www.diabetesprevention.pitt.edu/

If you have any questions about this program for your facility, you may contact Cathy at Cathy Takacs, RD, LDN, cathy.takacs.ctr@us.af.mil.


Please share your thoughts about this program and how it might benefit your military population.

What did you do to promote American Diabetes Month?

This was posted by Robin Allen, a member of the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN) Nutrition and Wellness team that aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the MFLN Nutrition and Wellness concentration on our website, on Facebookon Twitterand LinkedIn.