Penn State group assists those who help military families

For the CDTApril 13, 2014 

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The Penn State's Lion Ambassadors held an open house at Old Main on Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Students got the opportunity to learn some history of the building and climb the stairs to the bell tower.

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Mallori Hamilton grew up a military brat, attending school in Germany for 17 years while her father served in the Air Force and then worked for the service as a telecommunications specialist.

Today, Hamilton is a research assistant at Penn State’s Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness, a government-funded organization for psychologists, counselors and other professionals who help military families.

It provides these professionals with evidence-based programs and curriculums to assist the well-being of military families.

“My entire life I grew up on a military base with military people, and I wanted to do something continuing with that,” Hamilton said.

When she joined the clearinghouse in January 2011 as an undergraduate intern, it had fewer than 10 full-time employees. Today, it employs about 40 full-time staff members.

Since its start in 2010, the clearinghouse has grown to make a national impact on educational resources for military families and professionals who help them.

“We are like the Consumer Reports of programs,” said Daniel Perkins, director of the clearinghouse. “We lay out all of the programs. Some of those programs have a lot of evidence of effectiveness. Some don’t have any, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good programs — it means they don’t have any evidence yet.”

“The website is available to anyone,” Hamilton said. “So practitioners who work with military families could be anywhere in the world using the resources that they find on there, which is really cool because we’re reaching more than just Centre County.”

The initiative began with a grant from the National Institute for Food and Agriculture through the Department of Defense. As a land-grant university, one of Penn State’s missions is to translate research into practical application.

“What we do now is we try to look at some of the issues that are popping up from some of our partners in the military and connect them to faculty at Penn State who have expertise and maybe can work with them on the issue,” said Perkins.

The clearinghouse examines programs designed to support military children, youth and families, including ones that focus on substance abuse, parenting, physical fitness and bullying.

Those who provide such programs can go to a database on the website to look into relevant programs and their evaluations, Perkins said.

The clearinghouse also evaluates how effective programs are.

For example, it is developing an evaluation plan for the New Parent Support Program, which helps first-time parents understand child development.

It also develops curriculums and is working with the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, based at the Pentagon. Established in 2008, the program’s goal is to assist National Guard and Reserve families before, during and after deployment.

Peter Weeks, director of the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program Center for Excellence, said the program helps families understand what to expect during the deployment process, including communication, stressors and finances.

The clearinghouse is revamping Yellow Ribbon’s curriculum, Perkins said, “so that it’s not just led by a PowerPoint, but an engaging opportunity for folks to think about issues that they may face when their loved one returns from deployment.”

According to Weeks, the clearinghouse has developed 57 classes so far, including about 10 e-briefings for people who cannot attend events.

A year and a half ago, the program had none.

“They have been great,” said Weeks. “They have given our program credibility.”

Raychel Shipley is a Penn State journalism student.

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