Group showing military families they are not alone
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is a statewide program created through the Minnesota National Guard to connect military service members and their families with community support, training, services and resources.
Effective Jan. 30, Morrison County’s local arm of that organization was officially designated the “Yellow Ribbon Network of Morrison County.”
“Morrison County’s Yellow Ribbon group has been in existence about 18 months,” said Steering Committee Chair Rich Collins. “There were 45 people at our first meeting.”
Camp Ripley started the ball rolling, and set up a Web page.
“I can’t say enough about Camp Ripley in helping the program develop,” said Collins.
To attain the special designation, the committee had to have a completed action plan, with representation from most cities in the county.
“There will be a regional proclamation ceremony in summer 2013, most likely in St. Cloud, to include a number of new Yellow Ribbon communities,” Collins said. “We will hopefully have a local proclamation after that.”
“I think this is awesome; I’m so excited about the whole program,” said Greg Zylka, the committee’s vice chair. “It’s only fitting, with Camp Ripley actually being part of our community, that we honor and support the troops who fight for our freedom.”
The committee meets monthly, with an average of about 15 to 20 people at most meetings.
Funding for the group is not drawn from the county. It is a 501(c)3 organization. Donations come from private organizations and fundraisers.
“Funding is used for advertising, reimbursing volunteers for gas, welcome home events for returning deployed soldiers and banners on Highway 10, to name a few,” Collins said. “We’re pretty frugal with our money.”
The fiscal agent for the non-profit group is Northern Pines Mental Health Center, with Kevin Brown as financial adviser and treasurer. Brown is a Yellow Ribbon committee member who is a mental health practitioner and veterans program coordinator.
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon receives referrals to help deployed soldiers’ families in many ways.
“We helped a soldier’s family move and then took them out to dinner afterward,” Collins said. “We vacuumed up a flooded basement for a deployed soldier’s family. We want people to feel that they’re not abandoned because their spouse is gone.”
The group has also plowed snow, cleaned yards and set up furnace repair. One young mom was given a day for herself when Yellow Ribbon volunteers took care of her children.
Referrals are kept confidential. The group does not even know the names of the people they are helping until the initial meeting.
“It’s like in the old days when a barn burned — all of a sudden there were 100 people waiting to help build a new barn,” said Collins. “I see that we’re making a difference in people’s lives and that’s what this is about.”
The group is looking at events and deals that can be offered to service members and their families. Kris VonBerge of the Little Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau is working on a new Web site.
“We’re not looking for services for nothing, although that is nice,” said Collins. “But we want to find places which will support this program with a veterans discount.”
“I’m very proud to be part of this organization,” Collins said. “It’s very rewarding to run into people we’ve helped out in public. They continue to go out of their way to thank us.”
“I’m thrilled to be part of the Yellow Ribbon program,” Zylka said. “To be able to help when we see all the things these people go through — it’s only right that we help them and their families while they’re away and give them support when they return.”
The person to contact for help is Tami Klucas at the Family Assistance Center. Her number is (320) 616-3117.