Five minutes after sitting down, Angela Fields had tears in her eyes.
With 2-year-old Emma next to her, Fields told the other three women in the room how she had moved to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in October, her husband had left for a deployment and she was learning how to raise a special needs child.
“Emma has Down’s Syndrome. She’s 2. So, were just figuring it out, really,” said Fields, of Kankakee, Ill.
Fields was able to share at the first meeting of the Exceptional Family Member Program Coffee Group. Held beside the coffee shop in the AFC Arena on Jan. 10, the 10-11 a.m. gathering was designed to give people a chance to support one another through the challenges facing military families with members who have disabilities needing special care.
“Because military wives are proud of their husbands and the work that they do, … they don’t want to add that burden onto their spouse, but yet the burden … [falls] onto that family member,” said Timmy Milligan, an EFMP systems navigator.
And those with that burden need companionship. Milligan said people caring for disabled family members face a multiple challenges, including a host of doctor’s appointments, understanding the rights of the disabled and missed school for their children to attend special treatments. Without help such as what this coffee fellowship provides, these challenges can poison family life.
“Sometimes just even hearing someone else’s story makes your story doesn’t seem as bad as it could be, and also you can make friends,” said Milligan.
Such an outlet is very useful at JBLM. According to the National Military Family Association, more than 100,000 families have exceptional needs. With the base having one of a few Developmental Pediatrics clinics within the Army, many such families are drawn here, said Milligan.
The goal of the coffee group, which meets on the first Tuesday of every month, is to empower these families. Milligan said they work toward training and helping families reach a point where they know how to meet their needs, what resources are available and let the soldier go to work without worrying about his/her family.
But the goal of the coffee group is not only sharing information, but sharing about life. Camaraderie, as Milligan said, is something people who help the disabled need. It is why the conversations at the first meeting, while giving an opportunity to open up about life’s difficulties, also provided an opportunity to simply talk.
This is why Fields was able to share her story and tears.
“I enjoyed it,” said Fields after the group ended. “Just kind of having a forum to sound off about anything obviously, it’s not just about your kids, but about whatever came up in conversation.”