Aviano Air Base   Right Corner Banner
Join the Air Force

News > My Wingman is My Buddy
 
Photos 
Aviano EFMP
On Aviano, the Exceptional Family Member Program encompasses nearly 200 members, which can include anyone from a child to a spouse with special needs and helps parents navigate through a system to receive support, adaptive equipment and other various support functions such as seminars and book clubs. For more information EFMP, contact Glenn Romano at 632-5407. (Courtesy graphic)
Download HiRes
My Wingman is My Buddy

Posted 7/8/2013   Updated 7/8/2013 Email story   Print story

    


by Senior Airman Jessica Hines
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs


7/8/2013 - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- It began with a simple act of kindness, a softball shirt and a young girl who wanted to be a part of the team.

"I was at Barksdale (Air Force Base) and I coached a little league team for a civilian community," said Staff Sgt. Kristie Kersch, a Philadelphia native and 31st Munitions Squadron crew member.

"One of the siblings of one of my players had autism. She was always there with her mom, coming out for practices and games, so one day I ordered her a team t-shirt and spoke with the mother about getting involved. By the end of the season we had about four kids coming out to be a part of the practices and integrating with the kids, it was great to see."

A few years later, after moving to Italy, Kersch began seeking out opportunities to continue her passion for working with special needs children and eventually came up with the idea of My Wingman is my Buddy, which introduces volunteer Airmen with special needs children and their families.

"The whole idea of the program is to give the kids a chance to interact with each other, to be free and to not have any stigma,'" said Kersch. "On the flip side of that, it gives the parents a chance to network with each other."

With the help of Glen Romano, Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator, the two began brain storming and putting together ideas to help the children in EFMP.

On Aviano, EFMP encompasses nearly 200 members, which can include anyone from a child to a spouse with special needs and helps parents navigate through a system to receive support, adaptive equipment and other various support functions such as seminars and book clubs.

"What we'd like to see is at least one event per month for everyone to get together and connect and just have fun," said Kersch. "It's designed for children with special needs, so we ask that it's only children with special needs, and their families and anybody that has a connection to the child."

With her focus on helping the children, Kersch used her past experiences and developed something a little more engaging and fun for those involved.

"Her enthusiasm and special-needs background showed insight into what would assist our families," said Romano. "I knew the program would be well received by our EFMP families."

With a plan set in place and the support of EFMP, Kersch set out to find volunteer Airmen to dedicate a few hours at each event to show what being a Wingman is all about. The response, she says, was overwhelming.

"Within 72 hours of me sending out the email asking for volunteers, I had 50 replies," she said. "It's up to 80 volunteers now; I still get chills thinking about it."

While prior experience working with special needs children is a plus, it's not required for volunteers. However, volunteers must submit to have an installation record check done by security forces to meet certain civilian and military laws working with children. Other than that, Kersch wants all volunteers to have an open mind and heart when it comes to working with the kids.

With the first event on July 13, Kersch knows it may take some time for the program to fully develop and wants to assure the families that she understands their situation and that she is dedicated to making it the best it can be.

"I have a few family members with autism and Down syndrome," she said, "I've seen firsthand the struggle they deal with, I've been there.

"The autism foundation puts out a memo every year and their signature line at the bottom is 'these children don't have disabilities, they have different abilities.' I am a firm believer in that, they're children just like any other," she added.

For more information on the program, contact Glenn Romano at 632-5407 or Staff Sgt. Kristie Kersch at 632-3010.



tabComments
No comments yet.  
Add a comment

 Inside Aviano

ima cornerSearch


Site Map      Contact Us     Questions     USA.gov     Security and Privacy notice     E-publishing  
Suicide Prevention    SAPR   IG   EEO   Accessibility/Section 508   No FEAR Act