2008-01-17 / News

Military families make island their temporary home

By Michaela Kennedy

Jamestown has left its mark on the Bailey family and they, along with other military families, have given back to the community. Photo by Michaela Kennedy Jamestown has left its mark on the Bailey family and they, along with other military families, have given back to the community. Photo by Michaela Kennedy With the recent announcement of Jamestown's eligibility for Impact Aid, the presence of military families living on the island has become more noticeable, and in a good way. The families are excited about being here, too, and proudly share their experiences, often brief, with other families about to be relocated to the area.

In recent years, with the decline of base housing in Middletown and the increase of housing allowance for those stationed in the area, word has gotten out about what a great place Jamestown is to live.

Julie Bailey is a military spouse who has lived on the island since August 2005. Her husband, Tom, is an Air Force colonel who came to the area as a student at the Naval War College, and was granted an extension to teach. At first she was nervous about moving to a seemingly close-knit community like Jamestown, but her worries disappeared quickly with the warmth the whole family received upon arrival. "We received an instant welcome, especially from the churches and the schools," Julie said. "It can be hard transferring to a new school where the students have spent their whole lives. But my kids were immediately accepted."

One activity that has made transition to the island easier for children is the pen pal program. Two years ago, at the end of the Baileys' first year in Jamestown, one spouse with a student in the school district thought a lot could be done to help new military students. They invited all Jamestown students to write letters to military families moving into the area. "We had a phenomenal response from Jamestown families," Julie commented. "Many families leave before the new ones arrive, so this program helps."

The Jamestown children continue to write letters, asking what they can do to help. "All families who come get invited to an ice cream social, whether or not they participated in the pen pal program," she added.

People come from various branches of military service, such as the Navy and Marines.

Yet, many are not lucky enough to extend their stay here beyond one year. Military personnel who are stationed at the War College often find themselves here for only 10 months. "They come here in September and have to be out in June. Most jump right in to community activities as soon as they arrive. That's who we are, that's what we do," Julie said. "What's drawing more military families to Jamestown is word of mouth."

The War College students bring their families, and in turn impact local families. They often do volunteer time at the churches and in the schools. Julie, along with a handful of other military spouses, is a religious instructor at St. Mark Church. "Many join the choir, too," Julie continued.

Islanders have noticed the trend, and parents about town comment that with the military presence comes willing coaches for sports teams. In addition, almost 10 percent of the school band and chorus members are connected to the military.

The families who come to the island for even a brief stay make sure they patronize the downtown businesses. From Ladies' Night at Trish's TropiGrill in the off-season to pizza night at the Village Hearth, stationed families take advantage of the joy offered here. "The glassblowers have been great," Julie notes. "They have invited us in small groups, showing children demonstrations and getting their creative juices flowing. We love our island establishments."

Julie Bailey returned home earlier this week from a coffee social at Slice of Heaven. She meets a group of military spouses for coffee every Monday morning between 9 and 10:30 a.m. The spouses group is not limited to women, either. "There are quite a few active women in the military as well," Julie emphasized.

Often through conversation they share information on local services. If someone needs a doctor or a babysitter, for example, Julie and other spouses that may have lived here longer make recommendations to new arrivals. Families have medical treatment available through the naval healthcare at the base across the bridge. "But lots, like orthodontists, dentists, or specialists of any nature, are needed," Julie explained. "The base doesn't have everything available to the family."

Julie admitted the difficulty in moving into new towns. "Every place we've been harbors a more provincial view," she noted. Her children have lived in two different foreign countries as well as numerous stations around the country. She appreciates the perspective offered by teachers, because they see the difference in maturity level that comes from students who have traveled. "Military kids see the world more broadly," she reflects.

The Baileys feel they have been lucky. Tom received an extension of three years, which will allow their two children, Colleen and Danny, to stay in one school system for several years. She mentioned the time is especially important for her daughter to have continuity throughout the high school years. "It's an important time for the kids in school. We've been lucky."

Julie claimed she is not a coordinator in any official capacity. But those who have met her, through events she plans or networking she does, praise her for all the help she offers newcomers to the island. For anyone interested in getting involved with the local military network, contact her by e-mail at Julie@baileypeople. com.

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