Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
It began several years ago as a means of disseminating information to veterans and their families living in Cherokee and Anderson Counties, but now, the Lone Star Military Resource Group is pulling in the greater community through monthly presentations on self-sufficiency.
The Lone Star Military Farmers component “started out last year as a resource type group, but then we had local residents who were interested in crop sharing – we would come out and farm their land, then the (land owner) would divide the produce,” recalled Lois Hutson, who a farm support and resource development specialist for the military resource group.
That led to opening farmers' markets in Jacksonville and Rusk, which in turn, led to classes at the Cowboy Church in Rusk.
“It started out with a canning class, and it kind of rolled over into everything they wanted to learn, like couponing, making homemade laundry soap, canning and food storage, even bartering,” Hutson said.
The farming project is supported by both the Marine Corps League Detachment # 1381 – Hutson's husband Stephen is the Junior Vice Commandant – and the organizers of the Spooktacular Bull Bash, who purchase seeds for distribution to those wishing to plant gardens.
“There are people out there who want to grow their own gardens but don't have the large equipment to (prepare the land),” she said. “We're trying to start a program where we can till the land and give them harvest baskets and seeds to start their gardens. We want to help the community stretch their dollars, because people want to be self-sufficient, to take care of their families though they don't have the knowledge or skills to do that. We want to teach them the skills so that they can do these things year after year, and become self-sufficient.
The hands-on classes are attracting people from the area, from places such as Kilgore, Longview, Mineola and Mabank, even one woman who drove out from Louisiana for the January class.
“Everybody has different reasons why they come – some are scared of economy, some want to take care of their health, some want to learn skills,” she said. “It started out being for military, but (the resource group saw a larger) need, and so now we're just fulfilling that need for (all).”
And that, says Julianne Sanford, is the group's ultimate goal: To bring the civilian and military communities together as a greater awareness for the needs of local veterans and their families is created.
Sanford, a local military family readiness leader and health professional who launched Lone Star Military Resource Group several years ago, wanted to share information amassed over the years, information that provided moral and practical support for military families, especially in rural East Texas.
“We want to bring awareness to people, in order to meet needs of our military families,” she said. “It's very difficult for someone who is non-military to understand the need to develop (resources for this) particular population (because) we're a small portion of population at only 1 percent. So the focus is (to encourage) people to take an extra initiative to recognize (needs of military families). The military population isn't asking for special concessions, but I feel that through their service to our country, it's our duty to serve them the way they have us.”
In 2011, the City of Jacksonville, Cherokee County and Anderson County each signed a covenant, which “says 'we are a military-friendly community,'” Sanford explained. “That they will strive to do things to support military members and their families here.”
Her hope, however, is to see this spread beyond the two counties, so that “texas will be the place that veterans will want to live,” she said, adding. “I want Jacksonville to be the birthplace of this.”
Tyler/Smith County has a similar initiative that the resource group has become part of. “They have a mayors roundtable – a veterans' and community roundtable – and we're collaborating with them,” Sanford said, adding that she's also involved with her husband's national guard group in Angelina County, which opens up even more possibilities. “We are trying not to define ourselves by any boundaries, it's really about giving service to those military families in our region.”
To which end, the resource group has compiled a 232-page “Benefits for the Brave” handbook that lists state and regional resources for veterans and their families.
It is based on a manual created by Nicole Campbell, a Family Readiness Group leader from North Carolina. There are descriptions of websites that are of interest to military families; practical information on how to sign up for veterans' benefits; names of every Veteran Service Officer in Texas; information about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; even a list of discounts available to vets and their families.
While it is geared to helping East Texas military families, the resource group's purpose exceeds any geographical boundary: Sanford's ultimate goal is to be able to replicate their efforts in other communities across the country.
“We've gotten very positive response from both the military and civilian communties,” she said. “It's been a great bridge that allows providers of resource services to (share information with) veterans, and lets veterans know that these are services for their benefit.”
The group also sponsored a Military Appreciation weekend at the K.E. Bushman's Winery and Celebration Center in Bullard last October, bringing together a slew of organizations that serve military vets and their families.
Both Sanford and Hutson say that while things are shaping up for their groups even better than expected, they still hope someday that the resource and farmers groups will have a permanent home.
“We want to have a place where people can actually, physically, come in – similar to a U.S.O., but more focused on services and resources,” Sanford said, with Hutson adding that it would be more convenient to host classes and operate a farmer's market in a dedicated spot.
To learn more about the Lone Star Military Resource Group/Lone Star Military Farmers contact Sanford at 903-810-0303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org; to contact Lois Hutson, call 903-243-0487, or email email@example.com. The groups also have a combined page on Facebook.