We’re continuing our spotlight on Austin veterans with something a little different in this edition. We learned about Ronda Englander and Comfort Crew, an Austin based non-profit dedicated to helping children in military families cope with the unique stresses of that life. April is Military Children’s month and we absolutely had to share Ronda’s moving story and work. Please take a moment and learn about both in this interview.
EAA: Tell us how you realized this was a problem
Ronda: My Dad was in Vietnam and did not survive his tour. I am a Gold Star daughter. And my generation of military kids didn’t have any support. My family didn’t talk about my Dad’s service. I didn’t have any siblings and I didn’t know any other military families so I literally thought I was the only one going through this. I didn’t know what to do with all that emotion so I kept it all in.
EAA: It’s just heart wrenching to hear even now. I can see how you realized this was a problem. How did this become the full-fledged operation it is today?
Ronda: So fast forward to after 9/11 and as an adult and a mom now, I have a masters in childhood development and consider myself an advocate for kids in general. And that was my job. We moved to Austin and that is where we met our co-founder, Trevor Romain, and became partners with him. He’s an author and an illustrator and was working some of the same issues that I’ve thought were important. Things like bullying, trouble with school, or issues around friendship. The issue of grief came up and he had written a children’s book called “What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies?” We created our first resource around that book.
EAA: So now you’ve got this resource for military children. How do you get them across the world to the children that need them?
Ronda: We got the attention of some early partners that were able to help us distribute them to children at Dover Air Force base and that was a really huge milestone for us. That’s when we really began to learn about what those families are experiencing that was different than my experience and my generation. Things like multiple deployments and the moving, just real challenges. We have talked to kids and families, interviewed them and learned from them to create additional resources. Because frankly, I was just surprised that there’s still very few resources specifically for kids, there was still this gap. So really that Comfort Crew really began to create resources that we saw that there was a need for within the military community.
EAA: I understand you have a variety of ways you help military children, but I’d like to talk specifically about the Comfort Kits. You’ve given away half a million of these since you started. Can you tell us more about those? Quite candidly, I just assumed it was like a happy meal with some toys or candy in it or something.
Ronda: We really do identify needs and strategies for coping and the ultimate goal for these strategies and resources to increase communication within families. So for example, all of our resources have a plush, a DVD, a journal and family guide books. So those are really are our core components, core strategies. The animated DVD really speaks to kids in their own language. Oftentimes families tell us, the kids will watch that and it’s just really highlight some of the common issues and help to really validate what they’re feeling and that they’re not alone in feeling that way. And the journals, there’s so much research on journaling and it provides a way to get their feelings out. Kids often don’t know howto ask for help. And many families, kids tell us that it has really been a bridge to connect in. A family member comes home, something that can tell us that they’ve shared with them when they come home and a way to reconnect.
EAA: It’s really just incredible. How can readers help?
Ronda: So of course we can’t do any of this without the help of the public. We have volunteers here helping us today. We always appreciate any financial support. You can go to our website (https://www.comfortcrew.org/) and donate directly there. We’re also part of the combined federal campaign (CFC#46891). We can always use help distributing these resources as well. And if there are any questions about how to do that they can call us at 512-337-2739.
EAA: Thank you for your time Ronda and thank you for the work you do. It’s so hard and so important.