The New FRG by Jen Schwab


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From the author: I have been slowly building a vision for FRGs, and am so excited to present it in written form! The rules and regulations will tell you what you can and can't do. This document is meant to cast a vision for what an FRG can be. I hope it's useful, and please use it however you see fit! Thanks!! - Jen

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The New FRG by Jen Schwab

  1. 1. THE NEW FRG Guidelines for an Effective Family Readiness Group Spring 2013The Changing of SeasonsIt is a time-honored tradition for military spouses and family members to band to- Assessing Needsgether in times of conflict and deployment – to support each other in ways whichno one else can. Most needs in the military family member communitySince 2001, Family Readiness Groups (FRGs) have been through a lot. A lot ofdeployments, a lot of red tape and regulatory changes; and we find ourselves ap- fit into two categories:proaching a new season in the military community. It is a season of belt-tightening relational and logistical.and doing with less. We are no longer a country spending on defense without end, They need relationships withand this change will inevitably begin to affect the resources available to FRGs. people on a peer-to-peer level to go through this challenging lifeSo what do we do? How do we meet the needs of military family members when with. And they need mentorsthe traditional FRG path is lost and the well dries up? who can provide guidance and wisdom to see around the cor-We Start at the Beginning ners and teach life skills. HowWe start with honest assessments of needs within our communities, and we build can your FRG provide thesea plan to meet those specific needs. We build leadership teams based on enthusi- kinds of outlets?asm and ability, not rank and ribbons. We communicate clearly and often with They also need to know where tothose in our care. We proactively seek people out to bring into the fold. And in all go for information and resources,of these tasks, we build trust with family members. and how to get tasks done. HowWhen we build trust, an FRG can truly consider itself to be a resource. Without can your FRG be proactive intrust, an FRG is an official clique at best. providing the know-how?What will you do to contribute to A Better FRG? In This Guide • A Strong Team • An Accurate Phone Tree • Effective Newsletters • Building Trust • When You Get That Call • OPSEC & Rumor Mill • Who’s Included What are you community’s needs?
  2. 2. How to get rid of the wrong people? How do you weed out the wrong people you’ve already got? Allow them a gracious exit, either to a task better suited to them, or to an assignment elsewhere. Be careful about making rules to oust someone, as you may find those rules backfiring on you at a later Many hands make light work, but the right hands make it a joy. date. And if you must – then fire some-A Strong Team one. It’s uncomfortable, but lead- ing a team requires real leader-It is worth the time and effort to find the right people. And it is better to have the ship. Set your feelings to the sideheadache of empty position than to fill the seat with the wrong person. for the sake and health of the team. If not, you may find that youWhy? Because it’s incredibly hard to fire the wrong people. It is especially difficult don’t have a team a volunteer organization, like a Family Readiness Group, to demote someonewho is not the best fit.Each person you entrust with responsibility, will flavor and contribute to the cultureof your organization. And you must ask yourself, “Will this person support andcontribute to the culture we want to have?“Who are the right people?The right people to be on your leadership team will have enthusiasm, compe-tency and integrity.ENTHUSIASM. Those with enthusiasm for a cause bring energy, passion andfresh ideas to the task. Their care for people and issues motivates them to pushthrough difficult problems, and difficult people. Enthusiasm is a team multiplier –adding to the efforts of everyone in the group. Voting someone off the island?Beware those who seem to bring enthusiasm, but are motivated by self-drivenambition. They will work as long as it benefits them, and then drop out when theyfeel slighted or offended. If position and power are more important than the needsof people, they’re best left on the sidelines.COMPETENCY. It is not good enough to have a cheerful, warm body to fill theseat. An enthusiastic volunteer, who is poor with numbers, makes an ill-advisedTreasurer. Search out someone either gifted or experienced with numbers.If a hole must be filled until the right person is found, assign individual tasks, notposition to those who can keep the ball rolling. This leaves the position ready andavailable when a new member comes along who happens to be a bookkeeper. continued...
  3. 3. ...continuedBeware those who volunteer out of guilt versus a calling. They may mean well, but Enthusiasmthey can become a drain on the team because their motivation is ultimately basedon their own emotions, and not a gifting or calling to assist others. They would Competencyserve better as a helper than as a leader.INTEGRITY. A person of integrity brings commitment, professionalism and good Integrityjudgment to the team. The leadership team of an FRG are the role models for allfamily members in the unit.They don’t have to be perfect. But does their image match their life? Do they con-sistently follow through on what they say? Can they be calm in the face of antago-nizing people?Social media posts can be very telling of a person’s character. Someone whospends the bulk of their posts complaining and casting blame would make a poorchampion for others.An FRG is about taking care of people.There may be events or fundraisers – but ultimately its focus should be on sup-porting military family members. And that takes a healthy team of people willing tosacrifice for others.Leadership is sacrifice.An Accurate Phone TreeOne of the biggest challenges in managing a healthy FRG is getting and maintaining accurate family informa-tion. Family member information is constantly changing. Members come and go from units. They get married.They get divorced. Children are born. Addresses and phone numbers change.A Change of OwnershipDon’t rely on the system. While the military keeps tabs on who goes where, that doesn’t necessarily translatedown to the family programs. In our case, the two database systems in our state don’t even talk to each other –leading to more headaches than you can imagine.The solution is: Own your list. Do the footwork it takes to get in front of people and ask check the data yourself.Show up at a drill or a duty day and get to know military members.Births, marriages, divorces, moves – these are important life events for people. Use the excuse of maintaining alist to get involved in families’ lives. Get out and meet with family members. Maybe the FRG can host a babyshower? Or send a housewarming gift?People are more than just data on spreadsheets. But we need their data too. Want a better, stronger FRG? Be-come more than just an emergency phone number to family members, and get some face time with them. Ownyour list, maintain it on foot, and use it to invest in families.
  4. 4. A ProfessionalNewsletterVOICE. Use a professionalvoice when writing yournewsletter. It’s not an arenafor your personal gripe ses-sion. Be personal, and iden-tify with people, but alwaysbe aware of how your jokeor witty remark will be re-ceived.Write for your audience, anduse a civilian tone. Don’t useunexplained acronyms ormilitary terms, as they canalienate the very people When? Where? For how long? In what uniform?you’re trying to involve.Remember that the militarycontinues to evolve with What’s Going On?society, and your audience The FRG newsletter seems to be a deployment anomaly. It springs up when acti-is not all military wives. vation orders go out, and trails off as the deployment ends. There’s a natural life cycle to it, but I argue that the FRG newsletter is the best tool during those non-There are plenty of military deployment times as well, to build trust and audience.husbands, as well as manysignificant others and other If you wait until a deployment to get people involved, it’s almost too late. So howfamily members that can be do you involve people, who don’t want to be involved, and earn their trust before ajust as affected by military crisis?life as spouses. Try not toexclude these other groupsin your language. A better, and permanent FRG newsletter. The FRG newsletter is one of the cheapest and best ways to build camaraderie inFor a sample the off times. People value and trust consistency. Monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly –newsletter go to: makes no difference. The key is showing that you are dependable. CONTENT. Narrow your focus to what only you can provide. It does no good to fill up 12 pages if it doesn’t say anything unique or valuable. I can get a recipe any- where. What I can’t get is the information on when my soldier will be back from training, and where I can pick him or her up. I can’t Google that. Good quality in- formation will win you fans every time. Get close to your information source (Commander, 1st Sergeant, etc), and build a working relationship with them. Make sure they call you when they get new infor- mation. Anticipate the needs and make it easy for them to use you to communi- cate with family members. CONNECTION. Use the newsletter to help people form connections, with you and with each other. Invite (don’t beg) people to come and participate. Share news about the members of the unit – people coming, people going, promotions, births, anniversaries, marriages, etc.
  5. 5. On a Sinking Ship? A mantra in the fundraising world is that people want to be involved in successes; not in sinking ships. Even if your FRG has only two people, it is not a sinking ship. It’s just a small ship that’s ready to grow. Don’t focus on filling all the slots. Don’t pigeon-hole people into roles that don’t fit them. Assess the strengths of the peopleWe’re people, not numbers. you do have, and use them to grow from there. You may not really need a secretary as much asBuilding Trust vs. Attendance you need people who can simply reach out to others.It’s an easy trap to focus on building the attendance of your FRG, even throughgimmicks or teasers. Attendance is the cardinal measure of success after all. Butit’s not about numbers; it’s about people.We can’t build numbers by connecting with numbers. We must connect with peo-ple. And the key is to build trust. Here’s how we do that…Be ConsistentConsistency is always much easier said than done, but at the end of the day, it’swhat matters the most. Do you do what you say you will do? Are you seen as de-pendable or reliable?It can be hard in the military world to be consistent at times. You announce a dateand time for a meeting, just to find out that the unit’s mission has changed and itdoesn’t fit anymore. Information is always changing.But you can build trust as the best source of that changing information. Don’t wait Life Jackets, anyone?for the questions to come – anticipate them and be ready with an email update.Gossip and hearsay breed in silence. Be a proactive and reliable voice – andyou’ll have people’s trust.Breed InvolvementYou’re thinking, “Of course I want involvement! I’m practically begging people tobe involved!” But the difference is between begging and inviting.Invite people into what you’re doing by using their expertise. Value new members,not as underling newbies, but as new partners that bring new skills to the table.You’re not looking for bodies, you’re looking for experts. Connect with potentialmembers, find out what they’re good at, and find a way to fit that strength into yourFRG plan. Invite and integrate.
  6. 6. OPSEC “What the heck is OPSEC?“ OPSEC, or Operational Security, means keeping your lips sealed and your typing fingers silent about details that shouldn’t be broadcast to the world. In this day and age, the enemy watches Facebook. And Twit- ter. And your blog. And if they’ve found anything juicy there, they’re Hello? Can you hear me now? most likely hacking your email too. So be vague. Everyone in yourWhen You Get That Call Facebook friend list does not need to know that your spouse is com-Everyone dreads one of those calls. The one that starts with a very stern voice ing back to this exact location ongiving official rank and title, before proceeding to use phrases like, “within 24 this day at this time. In fact, no onehours” and “for an unknown length of time.” It’s the kind of phone call that spawns but you needs to know that.a thousand unanswerable questions. “I’m so happy to see Fred veryThese situations are always extremely stressful. How do you account for a half- soon!” is a perfectly good anddozen possible scenarios while remaining calm? And how do you lead others vague status update.through it as well? Don’t repeat any operational de- tails that your family memberStay Calm shares with you. Those who seek to do our service members harmThe trick is to let go of a good deal of control. Plans, expectations, routines – have no trouble putting the puzzlemany of these go out the window when life in the military intersects. pieces together.Roll with it. Move with it. Make the most of what you can affect. Got it? Good. This message will self-destruct inGather Info five seconds.Make the phone calls and gather the information that needs to be sent out. Beproactive and find the best information you can, that family members need.Inform and InstructEveryone is looking for two answers: What is happening? and What should I do?Even an email saying, “There is no news.” is vastly better than silence.Do the best you can to answer these questions. Fill them in on what you’ve found– always with the warning that everything is subject to change. Then give them acouple of action steps they can take.My favorites are laundry and gathering snacks that fit into pockets. Putting handsto work goes a long way to soothing the chaos of a last-minute or unknown mis- “Loose Tweets Sink Fleets.”sion.
  7. 7. The Rumor Mill Jen SchwabThe Rumor Mill is the number one reason why people dread FRGs and getting Available fortogether as family members. And while the FRG is an easy target, we’re all re- • brainstorming,sponsible for the Rumor Mill…even me sometimes. • mentoring,It starts out innocently enough. I hear a piece of information and want to share • and speaking.with the people who would care about it. And in only a few short laps, a voicedhope that they might come home sooner turns into, “I heard the unit is coming Reach her at:home on April 16th.“ jen.schwab@gmail.comWhy? Because we all grasp onto every piece of information we can get. We Find more of Jen’sspeculate. We feel disconnected from our loved ones, and so we’ll grasp at thoughts at:straws just to feel closer and in tune with them. It’s only natural. http://thewell-keptfort.comSome can handle this kind of misinformation better than others, but for everyoneinvolved it becomes a nightmare. You don’t know what information to trust any-more. Who’s really telling us the truth? It adds stress and can even cause irrepa-rable damage when this misinformation concerns reputations, allegations and Who’s Included?hearsay. Everyone. The landscape of military familiesHow do we kill it? has changed over the years. WhileIn two parts. First of all, we need to be aware of what we say to others. If your military wives still make up thesentence starts off with, “I heard…” – think twice about what you’re about to say. biggest demographic, it is essential to recognize anyone that supports + Is it really true information, or is it opinion? a military member as deserving of + What is the benefit to others in hearing this? your group’s time and effort. + What is my motivation is saying this? This includes girlfriends, boy- + Does it really need to be said? friends, aunts and uncles, siblings, and same-sex couples.Secondly, when you hear someone else say, “I heard…” – think twice before re- If they are active components of apeating it. Weigh the validity and value of the information before you pass it on. service member’s support struc-There are great pieces of valid news to pass on, within our networks and the ture, bring them into the fold.FRG. So check your source and check yourself before you speak. Period.Thanks!Thanks for caring about military family members and taking the time to read through this guide on building astrong, effective Family Readiness Group. This is a vision that I’ve developed and refined over time through myexperiences with many FRGs, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve been a military kid, a soldier myself, and nowa military spouse with two kids at home.I have a great desire to see military families continue to hold fast and build each other up. Everyone wants totake care of their fellow family members, but it is difficult to know how. The many regulations will tell you whatnot to do, or what tradition has been—but I wanted to paint a picture for you of what your FRG can be.An FRG - driven by actual needs, led by the right people, and focused on doing the few things that matter, canand will make a difference in the lives of those around it. We need to take care of families, and that starts withyou, in whatever capacity you can make it happen. Go for it! Jen