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When Loren Kovalcik heard about JF&CS Shoulder to Shoulder, a JF&CS program that provides support for families facing the unique challenges that accompany military service, it seemed perfect for her. “I am the wife of a military husband and the mother of a military son,” Loren says. “The program was interested in people with my background. Before long, I was training to be a Shoulder to Shoulder volunteer.”
More than a year later, Loren has the unique distinction of being one of the first volunteers to have completed a full year of visits with her first assigned Shoulder to Shoulder family.
“My number one role for these families is to be a support for them—a lifeline,” she says. “As is often the case, the husband might not be deployed overseas, but might be serving on evenings and weekends. Most military families in Massachusetts are part of the National Guard and are spread across the state. Unlike when you live on or near a military base with the support of an extended military family right there, here families may feel isolated. Shoulder to Shoulder is a great thing to have to help these families connect with someone who understands their service.”
With her experience as a military wife and mom, Loren was accepted by her Shoulder to Shoulder family in no time. “They knew I would get it,” she notes. “They felt comfortable because of the shared background. Even though we had just met, we weren’t strangers. I let them know I was not there to judge, but rather to make suggestions and give names of other organizations that might be helpful as well. I was there for them to bounce questions and ideas around and to be a friendly listener. That is how I would gain their trust.”
“Gaining the family’s trust is paramount,” Loren explains. “They know I’m coming back and that I’m going to see their progress. I could see that this young woman had doubts about herself as a mother. I was there to remind her about what a great job she was doing, pointing out everything from how polite her kids were to how she got them to eat all their vegetables. I made her feel good about herself and I saw her confidence grow. Seeing her success, it was beautiful to watch.”
With four grown children and one grandchild all living out of the house, Loren explains that she still had more love to share. “What do I get out of it? I get such warm fuzzies after being with my Shoulder to Shoulder families. It’s not like I’m just writing a check. Your time is your most valuable gift that you can give to someone. Just caring and loving them as human beings, just listening when they’re in a difficult spot. I think it grounds me. These military moms need to feel valued and sometimes they do not get that from their families or peers. They’re reaching for something, and I’m thrilled to be able to help them in some way.”