Here to help
A rmy Community Service has been around since 1965. Prior to that, responses to welfare and social needs of the Army community rested mainly on volunteers, particularly the Army wives. For several years, Army wives operated lending closets, thrift shops, and nurseries, raised funds to help the needy and assisted in emergencies.
In the beginning, ACS had a three-fold mission: relocation assistance, informational referral and Army Emergency Relief.
The Lending Closet, part of the relocation assistance program, was the first program created at ACS during the 1960s and it still exists today. The Fort Gordon Lending Closet loans basic household items for 30-day period to military personnel and their families as they relocate into or out of the Fort Gordon area. It is located in Darling Hall, Room 172.
The Army Emergency Relief program also continues to remain an important aspect of ACS and the Army. At Fort Gordon the official annual AER fundraiser kicked off Feb. 27 in Alexander Hall with retired Army Col. Guy Shields, the AER communications and public affairs officer, talking about how AER helps Soldiers, their family members and military retirees through grants and no interest loans. Army National Guardsmen and reservists can also apply for assistance through AER if they on continuous active duty orders for more than 30 days. The campaign will run through May 15. This year’s theme is “A Soldier’s First Choice – Soldiers Helping Soldiers and Their Families Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.”
“When you are facing an emergency situation, we want you to turn to AER first and not seek out assistance from loan companies that offer loans at high interest rates,” said Shields. “Soldiers can also help each other by contributing to AER.” Active duty Soldiers can contribute through a payroll deduction, cash or check. Civilians, corporations and businesses can also make donations by dropping off cash or a check at the ACS office located in Darling Hall, room 172.
AER is yet another place military spouses and children can seek help with college expenses. The Major General James Ursano Scholarship is available for military children and spouses can attend college through the Spouse Education Assistance Program. Applications are now being accepted until May 1, according to Jolane Williams, Fort Gordon assistant AER officer and AER specialist.
This year the AER program has made some important changes. AER has implemented a new policy allowing sergeants and above direct access to AER assistance without going through the chain of command, according to Shields.
AER is also placing a greater emphasis during this year’s campaign in connecting with military spouses. “We recognize that spouses make daily family financial decisions, especially when their Soldiers are deployed,” Shields explained. “We will be tailoring the [AER] presentation for Family Readiness Group representatives and spouses during the campaign.
In the last four years nine new categories of assistance have been added to include dependent dental care, replacement vehicles, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and appliance repair, rental vehicles, relocation travel, cranial helmets and infant car seats.
Just as the Army Community Service AER program has evolved and added categories to help Soldiers and their families so has the entire ACS program. Today, ACS offers a wider variety of programs to assist military families when they need it.
“Our mission is to facilitate a commander’s ability to provide comprehensive, coordinated and responsive services which support readiness of Soldiers, civilian employees and their families,” said Vanessa Stanley, the Fort Gordon ACS director. “We equip people with the skills and support to face military life today and tomorrow.”
Looking back, ACS has an interesting history. In the 1970s, ACS came under the umbrella of Morale Welfare and Recreation, now known as the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, and was staffed by volunteers. It was during this time period that post child development centers were created in response to an Army family that was growing.
In the ‘80s, ACS expanded its program again. The Army Fami ly Act ion Plan was introduced as was the Family Advocacy Program, which was created to help prevent child and spouse abuse. In addition, the Exceptional Family Member program was established to help families with special needs.
Army Family Team Building emerged during the 1990s. This program enhanced personal knowledge of the military and helped develop leadership skills, self-confidence and independence for all that participated.
Over time, other programs were added based on the needs of Army families. These included the Soldier and Family Assistance Center, Survivor Outreach Services, and master resiliency trainers for Comprehensive Soldier Fitness.
All these services and much more can be found at the ACS office in Darling Hall, Rooms 224, 172 and 155 or by calling, (706) 791-3579. Normal operating hours are 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The current ACS calendar can be found at http://www.gordon.army. mil/acs/Default.htm. Click on the “training calendar” link in the column on the left side.