Our Non-Profit Highlight this week features the Mainland BC Military Family Resource Centre (Mainland BC MFRC). The organization’s Executive Director, Tracy Cromwell, spoke with us about their unwavering support for military families in BC.
Mainland BC MFRC — Family First
Guided by their motto “the strongest force is family,” Mainland BC MFRC focuses on supporting families that are new to the military, new to BC, and new to civilian life. They also work with families that are separated by deployments or extended training exercises.
Enjoy our conversation with Tracy Cromwell of Mainland BC MFRC!
How did you get involved with the Mainland BC MFRC?
I have worked in the not-for-profit sector for a number of years. When I saw the posting for this position, it caught my attention, first because of the focus on family, and then because I liked the idea of doing my part to support my country by supporting military families. I didn’t have a direct connection to the military, though uncles and cousins have served, but that didn’t really matter. A passion for families and service were more important.
Describe your team and all of those involved with the Mainland BC MFRC
We are a fairly small team—five full time staff, plus two-part time social workers—so you learn pretty quickly that no one can get too hung up on a “that’s not my job” mentality. We respect boundaries, but we also have to learn to pitch in and help each other where we can. Though a small team, we cover a big area. Our office is located in Vancouver, but we support families in Prince George, Cranbrook, Trail, Kamloops, Vernon and Kelowna, so in addition to our staff, we are building our volunteer base in these cities as well as connecting with the people in the community resources that can support our families.
What is a current project on which your team is working?
We have recently had the opportunity to be involved in the rollout of a new program to support the families of medically released veterans. This includes families of those who release because of medical or emotional health reasons. Previously, our mandate was to work only with the families of currently serving military members. The Veteran Family Program has given us a great opportunity to work with families and the veterans themselves to help them navigate any challenges they have as they transition into post-service life.
What challenges have you and your team overcome?
Because the military population on the mainland of the province (excluding Vancouver Island) is mostly made up of Reserve Force[i] families, many people in the civilian community are not aware there are military members among them, let alone the challenges that can accompany the military lifestyle. Additionally, because we are so far removed from many of our families, we have to get beyond their notion that we will parachute into their communities, promise a few things, then leave never to be heard from again.
Building awareness and building trust both take a long time. However, we have found that as we make diligent efforts to connect with the communities—both civilian and military—and demonstrate our integrity by making realistic promises and following through on them, we are definitely making inroads in overcoming these challenges.
What has been the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced working with Mainland BC MFRC?
As the Executive Director, I’m not out in the field as much as the rest of the staff, so my most rewarding moments come when they relay to me what their clients are sharing with them: how we’ve helped a spouse adjust to military life; how we’ve helped a child settle into a new location; how we’ve helped a couple work through challenges because of the time apart. Not every military family has problems, so some just want to tell us how grateful they are to know that we’re there if they need us. Over the last two years, we’ve been able to provide more outreach services. At one unit briefing in Trail, a long-time military member told our coordinator he was very pleased because he’d been in the area for 20 years, and had never had the MFRC visit. When I heard this, I knew we were on the right track.
How can others contribute to the organization’s work?
When I spoke about challenges, I could have added that one of the challenges we face is that people assume we’re part of the military. We are not. We work closely with our local military; however, we are a registered charitable organization. Our government takes good care of our military members, but there are resources the families require that we provide, so we raise funds and appreciate donations in the same ways as other not-for-profit organizations.
In addition to financial support, we also welcome volunteer support. Whether it be administrative assistance or help delivering information to families, there are a number of ways to get involved.
Finally, people can contribute to our work by helping us build awareness. When the Canadian Armed Forces were deploying regularly during the war in Afghanistan, Canadians were very aware of military families. However, now that they are not in a declared war (though they still deploy regularly: Latvia, Mali, the Arabian Sea, and numerous domestic operations to name a few), they are still always working to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. This means families are separated and the danger is still real, so families still need our support.
[i] Reserve Force members typically work for the military part time while working full time in a civilian job. They also usually remain in one place, and are not posted from base to base.
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