Metro cities join forces to help military families

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2012 - 3:19 PM

Five north-metro cities are creating a plan to join the Yellow Ribbon Community Campaign for service members and their families.

Five north-metro cities are looking for a few good volunteers.

Officials in Andover, Anoka, Champlin, Coon Rapids and Ramsey are hosting a meeting next week as they seek to join the Yellow Ribbon Community Campaign, linking arms with the organization that mobilizes to care for active and former service members and their families.

Residents, educators, city officials and others are invited to the event in Anoka. The network of cities is expected to draw up a plan to submit to Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, the outreach and assistance program coordinated by the Minnesota National Guard.

Beyond the Yellow Ribbon works around the state to build awareness of the issues faced by veterans and people in active service. The Yellow Ribbon Community Campaign is meant to coordinate efforts to support them and their families.

Farmington in 2008 was the first metro community to earn the Yellow Ribbon designation. Since then, 24 other cities and 21 companies have joined in, along with eight counties and five regional associations like the one the north metro cities are working to build. In the north metro, only Spring Lake Park has earned the designation.

Although the statewide organization asks for a mobilization plan, the actual implementation is flexible to meet the needs of the people it serves.

It has to be. Nowadays, with more troops coming home from deployments in the Middle East, there's a focus on reintegration and jobs, said Master Sgt. Dave Denton, one of the organization's regional coordinators.

People think of deployment as a three-year cycle, he said. "It's longer, in my opinion. It's the year before, spent in anticipation of deployment time, and then the third year and beyond is the reintegration."

There's a big push to bring employers on board, along with mentors for those trying to get back into the swing of workaday stateside life.

"We're making sure we start the initiative with them looking for folks who can help with resume-writing and networking capabilities," he said. "As a serviceman, I know how to network within the military, but get me in the civilian world, and it's 'How do I do this?'"

Coon Rapids City Council Member Bruce Sanders has been involved in the organizing process in his city. A year ago, a kickoff meeting drew only a few people, he said, but he hopes joining forces with other communities will boost interest.

He's heard appeals for help from veterans' families. "I know there's a need," he said. "It's being unmet right now."

For those still deployed overseas, it's important to know their families are cared for, said Denton, who served three tours of duty in Iraq.

That help could be as simple as a visit or having a lawn mowed or a driveway shoveled.

"There's always people wanting help, always people out there looking and saying 'What can we do?' " he said. "It's whatever people can give."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

  • YELLOW RIBBON

    Residents and others from Andover, Anoka, Champlin, Coon Rapids and Ramsey will gather at 6:30 p.m. March 29 at Green Haven Golf and Banquet Center, 2800 Greenhaven Road, Anoka.

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