Helping military families: ‘Do what’s in your heart’

July 22, 2010 by

Sister Loretta Jasper speaks to the Salina Sunflower Lions Club June 14, urging members to reach out to military families in their communities.

When Sister Loretta Jasper spoke to the members of a Salina service club recently, she had the same message she’s been delivering for a year and a half: Reach out to the spouses and children of people serving in the military, and “do what’s in your heart.”

Since January 2009, Sister Loretta has been serving as a family counselor under a program ­designed and funded by the U.S. government. In that role, she has been to military bases in Germany, Alaska and the South, and has just completed the school year working with the children of military personnel at a Midwest Army base.

But, she told the members of the Salina Sunflower Lions Club — many of whom are retired military — the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today include nearly a third National Guard members and Reservists, and those families face different challenges.

Unlike military families who either live on a base or close to one, and have the support of other similar families and the base structure, members of the Guard and Reserves are “isolated” all around us, among people who may not understand what they’re going through.

“These are people in your community,” said Loretta, who has been a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia for more than 45 years. “These are people sitting next to you in church or who are in school with your kids and who you run into at the grocery store.”

Her job — and the challenge she posed to the Lions Club members — is to “help the kiddos and spouses who are left behind move through that time, when Mom or Dad is deployed and away and then when the parent comes back.”

In her June 14 talk, she urged the club members to “be a friend, a neighbor, a member of your church… Be aware that these families are in your community, and just be willing to be there when they need you.”

That, in fact, describes Sister Loretta’s job.

“I ‘support and assist,’ ” explained the Catholic sister with more than 25 years experience as a mental health counselor. “Sometimes that means doing nothing, just listening, just being the one who’s there all the time.”

Other times, it means organizing informal sessions for high school students, like she did at an off-base school from January through March. Some 30 teenagers from military families came to talk every day.

As part of those sessions, Loretta helped the teens create quilt blocks, that she described as “small snippets of visual history — that depict the effect war and multiple deployments have upon teenagers and families who have a caregiver in and out of the battlefield.”

One block, in particular, sums up the mixed feeling experience by these teens, she said: “I love the Army; I love the USA; I hate the war.”  Other blocks in the quilt include issues related to changing friends and schools; learning how to deal with the returning soldier/parent affected by the war; assuming the role of surrogate parent either by absence of the one parent; or inability of the remaining parent to tend and juggle the multiple levels of need in the household; and, the teenager re-directing personal anger related to all of these issues.

Two of Loretta’s family members volunteered to piece the quilt blocks together, and it now adorns a hallway at the school where it was made.

The names of the teens who created it are not part of the quilt, though. Loretta explained that confidentiality is an important part of her work with military families and children.

“We don’t do any documentation, we don’t write reports on people or even keep track of their names, and that’s pretty unusual in the military,” she notes. “But it’s important because in the military, you don’t want to be a wimp or a wuss, you don’t want it to look like you need help. So when they talk to us, no one knows about it — there’s no electronic record.” (That confidentiality also explains why details about Sister Loretta’s location have been intentionally omitted from this story.)

That privacy, though, can sometimes have the unintentional result of more isolation, particularly in the small, rural communities the many Reservists and Guard members call home, she said.

“That’s why you need to pay attention,” she told the Lions Club members, who included her brother-in-law, John Hunt of Salina. “There are families around you who need you to just be there for them. Do what’s in your heart — that’s all I can tell you.”

Comments

3 Responses to “Helping military families: ‘Do what’s in your heart’”

  1. Elizabeth on April 25th, 2016 6:51 pm

    Sister Loretto: Contact me, I want to know more about your religious group and serving military families. I have been seeking a very long time. Is there a laity group or association with the Sisters of St Joseph?
    Thank you for answering the call and telling others to reach out to the military family.

    Peace in Christ,
    Elizabeth W

  2. Margaret Tasssione (Morissette) on August 8th, 2010 7:11 pm

    Loretta,
    Keep doing the great work you do. I think of you often–usually when I’m humming along to a song. We made a great singing team. The community is blessed to have you. You have touched a great many lives.

    Margaret

  3. Elizabeth (Betsy) Gasperich-Miller on August 1st, 2010 4:14 pm

    Dear Sister Loretta,
    Well done, dear friend…..keep doing what you are doing….helping so many. You were always a loving, giving person who remains always in my heart. Love, hugs and blessings always…..Betsy/Elizabeth.
    Thanks for being a part of my life…..I have such wonderful, fond memories of you and our time together.

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