HHS initiative to help families cope with pandemic receives two engagement awards

A College of Health and Human Sciences initiative designed to support families through the COVID-19 pandemic has received two engagement awards from Purdue University.

Families Tackling Tough Times Together has received an HHS Faculty Engagement Award for excellence in innovation and demonstrated impact in alignment with the college’s strategic engagement goals. Additionally, the program has received a University Corps of Engagement Award for outstanding partnership and achievement among a team of faculty, staff, students and/or community stakeholders.

The program, which launched in mid-April 2020 at the height of shutdowns across the United States and around the world, contains nine modules of evidence-informed activities, along with two video series, all designed to strengthen family resilience.

More than 70 scientists, staff members and students worked together to create Families Together, under the leadership of Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, a distinguished professor of human development and family studies and director of the Center for Families and the Military Family Research Institute.

While data analysis for Families Together is ongoing, early results have shown a positive impact. Among the metrics in a paper published last November in the International Journal of Military, Veteran, and Family Health: By the end of its first cycle last spring, the Families Together Facebook group had reached more than 1,300 families from 25 different countries. On average during that time, about 400 group participants were active each week.

Reaching Rural Veterans helps connect services to people in need

“I was looking for hope and community and I found both, along with some needed services right here.”
RRV participant

Roughly one-third of all veterans live in rural areas and are often less likely to have access to needed services than those in urban areas. Organizations such as Purdue’s Military Family Research Institute seek to meet rural veterans where they are with the care they need. 

In collaboration with food pantries and faith-based communities, MFRI’s Reaching Rural Veterans (RRV) connects former service members with needed services and benefits through resource fairs and one-on-one education at food pantries in rural areas. Originally piloted in Indiana and Kentucky, RRV has expanded this year to Illinois, thanks to funding from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Partnering with faith-based communities and Illinois Extension

RRV in Illinois is a partnership between MFRI, University of Illinois Extension, food pantries, and faith communities. Its primary objective is to provide food, medical and behavioral health support, education and resources, including VA benefits, to low-income, homeless and low-resource veterans located in rural areas, says Rena Sterrett, senior community outreach specialist with MFRI.

“Veterans who live in rural areas can have difficulty accessing the resources they need,” she says. “Reaching Rural Veterans events make accessing these resources much easier by having them all in the same place at the same time.”

The project also seeks to:

  • educate local faith communities, food pantry staff and other community organizations about veteran families;
  • engage local faith communities and others in providing support and assistance to military-connected families; and
  • educate low-income, homeless and low-resource veteran families about nutrition and health.

Identifying counties of greatest need

Originally planned for 2020, the launch of RRV in Illinois was put on hold for a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When MFRI was ready to move forward, Sterrett connected with the University of Illinois Extension, which helped her identify five rural Illinois counties to target: Fulton and Effingham counties in central Illinois, and Union, Perry and Saline counties in southern Illinois.

“We had five counties that were chosen based on several categories, one how rural they were – which is determined by qualities such as location to urban areas and population,” Sterrett says. “We wanted them to be as rural as possible, with a fairly high percentage of veterans.”

Making it easy, efficient and safe for veterans

Illinois Extension staff also helped to locate food pantries in the targeted counties. Then MFRI staff got to work, identifying services available to veterans and examining county demographics through the institute’s Measuring Communities program. They shared this information with food pantry staff and volunteers during orientation sessions that also included cultural competency training on military culture.

The program debuted in Illinois in March 2021 and will take place at walk-in and drive-up food pantries for nine months in 2021. In addition to providing education, materials and resources one-on-one to clientele, participating pantries will also bring together multiple veteran-oriented services through resource fairs on a regular basis.

The idea is to make it easy, efficient and safe for veterans to obtain benefits and services and build support, Sterrett says: “Right now, our goal is to reach 50 veterans in each pantry over the span of nine months of programs.”

To evaluate the effectiveness of the program, MFRI is teaming up with Heather Eicher-Miller, associate professor in Purdue’s Department of Nutrition Science, who specializes in nutrition and food insecurity. She and a PhD student have designed a survey for veterans that they can complete at the beginning and at three months into their participation in the program.

Building upon a successful pilot program

Eicher-Miller also was part of the Reaching Rural Veterans pilot, which was created after extensive reviews of the academic literature and existing programs targeted at homeless and low-resource veteran families in rural areas.

The pilot took place with ten food pantries selected in Indiana and Kentucky based on rurality, need, community partnerships and budget. Participating pantries received grants to support outreach and engagement activities directed toward veterans living in their service areas, and were provided with training, materials and resources to reach out to rural veterans.

Sterrett notes that at regular intervals, food pantries held special outreach events where services directed toward veterans living in the area were provided. “The goal was to bring together multiple resources to make it easy, efficient and nonthreatening for veterans to obtain services and build support with other veterans and the community,” she says.

Evaluations of the pilot, whose results were published in the Journal of Public Health, showed an improvement in food pantry staff’s knowledge of veterans’ needs, as well as increased participation by veterans.

Along with these quantitative measures are also dozens of stories about veterans whose lives were changed by Reaching Rural Veterans, through access to affordable housing, Veterans Health Administration benefits and other resources in their own communities. As one pilot participant commented, “I was looking for hope and community and I found both, along with some needed services right here.”

Writer: Kristen Cavallo
Source: Rena Sterrett (rsterret@purdue.edu)
Photo: Renee Trappe, courtesy of the Du Quoin Call

MFRI stands with the AAPI community

We, the undersigned organizations committed to supporting service members, veterans, caregivers, survivors, and their families, write to express our strong condemnation of the recent wave of violence against individuals of Asian descent in our country, and to express our solidarity with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have strong representation among our veterans and military families. They are patriots who have strengthened the fabric of our nation, they have fought and won our wars, they have borne the burden of battle and cared for those who have borne that burden.

We affirm that violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is violence against our entire community, and such activity – like all hate-based activity – is fundamentally wrong in every way, anti-American, and unpatriotic. We urge all members of the military and veteran family community, and all Americans who feel they may be targeted by discrimination, to seek help through their military chain of command, our organizations, or through law enforcement agencies in your area.


Armed Services YMCA
Blue Star Families
Bunker Labs
Code of Support Foundation
Cohen Veterans Network
Combined Arms
Easterseals DC VA MD
Elizabeth Dole Foundation
Dixon Center for Military and Veteran Services
Freedom Learning Group
Institute for Veterans and Military Families
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
Modern Military Association of America
Military Spouse Chamber of Commerce
Military Child Education Coalition
Military Family Advisory Network
Military Family Research Institute
Military Officers Association of America
Military Women’s Memorial
National Math and Science Initiative
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
Operation Gratitude
Partners in PROMISE
PenFed Foundation
PsychArmor Institute
Psych Hub
United Through Reading
Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers
Secure Families Initiative
Student Veterans of America
Team RWB
The Mission Continues
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors
Travis Manion Foundation
Veterans Education Success
Vets’ Community Connections
Wear Blue: Run to Remember

The White Oak Collaborative is a cross-sector coalition of organizations committed to supporting service members, veterans, caregivers, survivors, and their families. For more information please contact whiteoakcollaborative@gmail.com.

MFRI unveils updated How to Help issue for caregivers

MFRI introduces a newly-updated How to Help issue today (May 21),  designed especially for professionals working with family caregivers.

The refreshed issue launches in conjunction with the release of a new national-level Measuring Communities Caregiver Snapshot, sponsored by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. The Foundation and its Hidden Heroes campaign aim to raise awareness and resources to improve the lives of 5.5 million loved ones who care for the country’s ill and wounded veterans.

A special two-day celebration of Hidden Heroes Cities begins Wednesday in Indianapolis. Actor Tom Hanks and Gov. Eric Holcomb join Sen. Elizabeth Dole at multiple events.

During the celebration, MFRI Senior Director Kathy Broniarczyk attends a luncheon panel that includes Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett and Boston mayor Rob Santiago. Broniarczyk will explain the purpose of Measuring Communities and the role of the Caregiver Snapshot, which was made possible after the Foundation gathered and provided the data for use in the Measuring Communities tool. 

On Thursday, a special one-hour edition of NBC News’ TODAY will be co-anchored by Hanks and Savannah Guthrie live from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It will highlight military and veteran family caregivers.

MFRI is honored to partner with the Foundation in its efforts to make lives better for military and veteran caregivers. We applaud the nation’s Hidden Heroes Cities who are dedicated to streamlining services and sharing best practices with their communities and beyond.

Strengthening behavioral health providers' service of military and veteran families

MFRI continues to receive support for sustaining Star Behavioral Health Providers (SBHP).

This community-based training program enables behavioral health providers to better meet the needs of military and veteran families, and its online referral system connects these families to trained providers.

Launching in Indiana with MFRI as a founding partner, SBHP is a nationally-recognized, award-winning program that been a model for federal legislation. It has expanded to nine states.

This fall, grants totaling $110,000 from organizations in Michigan, Ohio and Oregon will allow MFRI to provide evaluation assistance and continued support of those states’ SBHP implementation.

Students from across campus build skills at MFRI

MFRI offers many opportunities for students to gain professional skills as interns, student employees and research assistants. The students who engage with military and veteran families at MFRI come from a variety of backgrounds, such as pharmacy, engineering, interior design, communications and more. Involving students in projects that enhance their professional and academic skills helps prepare them for future endeavors.

– Our Family Support team has two students working on specific projects. One student focuses on communication and logistics for Star Behavioral Health Providers and the other collects data for the Measuring Communities project.

– Our External Relations team intern researched, wrote and produced an educational video about MFRI’s collaboration with Joining Community Forces Indiana and the Indiana legal community. She also helped to research updates to MFRI’s How to Help series and provided communication support for MFRI.

– Two Education and Employment team interns are focused on processing data and assisting with evaluations of past Focus Forward Fellowship cohorts.

– Our Research director coordinates 13 undergraduate students, all of whom participate in telephone interviews for MFRI’s Family Journeys project. Most of these students also gain skills coding qualitative data while some assist with logistics and data management.

MFRI's Focus Forward Fellowship serves women student veterans

Focus Forward Fellowship The Focus Forward Fellowship is a program designed to build skills, leadership and a sense of community among women student veterans. In 2017 two cohorts totaling 28 participants were invited to complete the Fellowship. A national cohort open to women student veterans across the country and a Colorado University specific cohort. 

The 2017 program focused on refining the learning objectives from the 2016 pilot year. These objectives included building a community support network with peers in the Fellowship program, increased network-building, recognition and application of personal strengths and the integration of their veteran identity with other identities in their personal life.

Collectively among all the cohorts, the program has influences 41 women representing all five branches of service, 35 higher education institutions and 21 states. The fellows have an average GPA of 3.39 with the 2017 cohort being 19% STEM focused.

A 2017 Fellow said, “When this opportunity was presented, I felt like it was fate. Who better to progress women veterans than fellow women veterans?”

The 2018 Fellowship will be held in July at Purdue University. Applications open in February.

Happy Birthday to the U.S. Marine Corps

Happy birthday, Marines! MFRI wants to give all U.S. Marine Corps families an extra salute today as they celebrate the service’s 242nd birthday.

On Nov. 10, 1775, the Continental Congress approved a resolution that called for two Marine battalions to fight for America's independence at sea and on the shore. Passage of the resolution officially formed the Continental Marines.

Marines share a uniquely close relationship with the Department of the Navy, as the two services participate in joint operations and Navy chaplains and medical personnel have served in the Corps.

Corps values include honor, courage and commitment — so evident in the ways these brave men and women have served throughout our nation's history. The Marine Corps' motto, Semper Fidelis ("always faithful") was adopted in 1883 as a reminder to remain faithful to the mission, to each other, to the Corps and to country.

To date an average of 184,000 active duty and reserve service members serve in the Corps, according to U.S. Military Strength

MFRI salutes the Marine Corps today, as well as their families. Semper Fi

US Air Force celebrates 70 independent years

We here at MFRI are looking skyward to wish the men, women, families and veterans of the United States Air Force a very happy 70th birthday.

As the youngest of the Armed Services, the USAF has a rich history. The U.S. Army purchased its first aircraft in 1909, only six years after the Wright Brothers made their first flight. World War II demonstrated the value of airpower and the need for an independent air service.

The Air Force officially came into being when President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act on September 18, 1947. Since then, the men and women of the USAF have played a vital and often decisive role in all of America’s conflicts.
Air Force planes and personnel have also undertaken hundreds of humanitarian missions, delivering life-saving supplies to victims of natural and man-made disasters. The Air Force today is the second-largest branch of service, with nearly 330,000 members on active duty and 71,000 Reserves.

More than half of Air Force personnel (57.5 percent) have families, a total of 445,000 spouses, children and other dependents who serve and sacrifice alongside their loved ones. The number of Air Force veterans is estimated at 4.1 million.

Purdue Air Force ROTC Detachment 220 is home to nearly 130 future Air Force leaders, commissioning more than 15 rated positions of pilot and navigator each year, along with a variety of other career fields. MFRI salutes these patriots and their families, who give much in service to our nation.


Center for Families to host family symposium

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind — Purdue University"s Center for Families will sponsor a symposium titled "Status of Indiana Families: Issues and Answers" on Oct. 19 in Indianapolis.

The symposium will address some of the issues Indiana families face every day and present tools to navigate these challenges. It will also provide insight into critical issues facing Indiana families, from infants and children to the aging and elderly. Topics include issues of military families, low-income families seeking higher education, low-income single moms, and issues of rural and urban families.

Chuck Underwood, author of "The General Imperative"and "America's Generations in the Workplace, Marketplace and Living Room," will be the keynote speaker. Underwood is one of the pioneers in the field of generational study. The principles he established over the past 25 years, through research and work with clients, are now a permanent part of the discipline.
Other speakers will include researchers from Indiana University, Ivy Tech Community College, Marian University, Purdue University and Sagamore Institute.

The symposium will take place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Ivy Tech Community College Conference Center at 2820 N. Meridian St. in Indianapolis. The cost of the symposium is $50. Lunch is included. Online registration can be found here. Registration deadline is Oct. 9.

The Center for Families at Purdue University was established within the Department of Human wwwelopment and Family Studies in the College of Health and Human Sciences. The center collaborates with professionals, policymakers, corporations and more to integrate outreach, teaching and research activities that support families.The Military Family Research Institute is a Center for Families initiative.

For more information, please contact Kate Kester, the center's assistant director.