Volunteers from Andover, Anoka, Champlin, Coon Rapids and Ramsey want to assist military service members and their families any way they can.
Rather than having ideas as individuals, the communities hope to create a united front under the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program that was started by the Minnesota National Guard, but assists people associated with any military branch.
The group held its kickoff meeting March 29 at the Green Haven Golf and Banquet Center in Anoka and drew approximately 75 people.
But there were only about a dozen people at the latest meeting July 12 at the Anoka Armory.
Master Sgt. David Denton, outreach coordinator for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, said attendance at meetings can really vary. Some people informed him that they had scheduling conflicts, he said.
One of the goals of the meeting was to identify key leaders within the steering committees, which are education, city government, businesses, faith-based organizations, veterans and civic organizations, public safety/judicial, medical and social services, and volunteers from the community.
Due to the limited turnout, these key leaders were not identified.
Ramsey Mayor Bob Ramsey indicated he would set up a meeting with the mayors of Andover, Anoka, Champlin and Coon Rapids.
Denton said he hopes to recruit participation from the Anoka Area and MetroNorth chambers of commerce as well because of all the community connections they would have.
Even those not there were able to share some thoughts with Denton. He met with Andover Community Development Director David Carlberg to go over some ideas he has.
This includes lowering cities’ fees on things such as renting park facilities for families of deployed service members.
Carlberg said the Andover City Council would need to approve any policy changes and he would discuss the possibilities at a council workshop.
Julie Blaha, president of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota, would like to find out if teachers’ current contracts addresses long-term deployments.
“We need to think of deployment not just as a temporary situation, but as a reality,” she said.
Blaha would also like teachers to know which students have parents that are deployed so they can help them out if needed.
The challenge is finding out who these students are.
Although the military keeps good lists of its service members, this information is protected by data privacy laws.
She would like to brainstorm with the district on different ways to get the word out to families that they want to help.
Nicole Rice, a family readiness support assistant at the Anoka Armory, said when troops recently came home they were escorted by police departments and motorcycle riders from the Minnesota Patriot Guard and the local American legions. That type of support means a lot.
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is more than helping the families of those who are deployed.
Even those National Guard reserves who are at home must train. Denton said they train one weekend a month and an additional two weeks throughout the year.
As they advance in rank, there are senior leadership courses that could take a month to three months of their time in addition to the regular training, according to Denton.
“Those are times that families are still disrupted,” Rice said.
What is takes
Denton acknowledged that becoming a Yellow Ribbon city can be an overwhelming process, but the key thing is to keep the ball rolling.
There is a 16-step process to becoming a Yellow Ribbon community. Some steps have already been completed because there was the kick-off meeting and community members have been engaged.
Key steps include identify a spokesperson for the overall group as well as the eight individual groups, get the eight groups together to come up with a comprehensive list of how they can help, have these action plans reviewed, have the action plans approved by the Yellow Ribbon Recognition Program Review Board and have a proclamation declaring these communities as Yellow Ribbon cities.
If you are interested in finding out more about Beyond the Yellow Ribbon or you want to find out how you can help, visit www.btyr.org.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]