By Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
GLEN EYRIE CONFERENCE CENTER, Colo. — A daylong retreat for parents with children enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program was held Aug. 1 in a 100-year old castle and provided a chance for couples to reconnect.
A hectic military lifestyle, coupled with the strain and responsibility of caring for a child or family member with exceptional needs can sometimes become overwhelming.
This is one of the reasons why the Department of Defense created the Exceptional Family Member Program in the early 1980s. EFMP is a mandatory program within all branches of the DOD that works with other military and civilian agencies to provide comprehensive and coordinated community support, housing, educational, medical, and personnel services worldwide to military families with special needs.
This one-day retreat was held at the Glen Eyrie Conference Center, situated in a breathtaking canyon on the western edge of Colorado Springs, was the perfect backdrop for an event focused on taking a break and strengthening relationships.
“They have a lot of added challenges and issues because they do have children or spouses with disabilities. Whether it’s a physical or mental disability, it adds challenges to their everyday life,” said Jackie Wickham, Peterson Air Force Base Exceptional Family Member Program family support coordinator.
EFMP parents do not simply have “extra” responsibilities. These responsibilities to care and tend to their loved ones sometimes becomes all-consuming, it becomes their life.
“It affects their entire life, not just one aspect. Some children require 24/7 care, to the point when a parent sleeps, they dream about what they need to do the next day, with doctor appointments, school and therapists; all of those things,” said Wickham. “This type of event is really nice for couples because it gives them a break.”
Parents of exceptional family members — like any other parent — put the needs of their child first, many times sacrificing time normally devoted to themselves or their relationship.
“It gives parents the opportunity to take a breather; it gives them time to focus on themselves and their relationship with their spouse. Parents with these types of responsibilities are not good at taking time out for themselves; it is seen as something they just don’t have time for,” said Wickham.
This event was not simply about working on couple’s communication skills; it was also about bringing couples with similar family issues together in an environment where they could share and connect. The event provided an opportunity to network with other parents that are dealing with many of the same issues.
“Some families feel isolated because they have a child with disabilities; they are not alone,” said Wickham. “They are parents; they are caregivers; but they are also people and need to take care of themselves.”
For more information about the EFMP here, visit the Airman and Family Readiness Center in building 350, or call 556-6141, or go online to http://www.21fss.com/about/airman-family-readiness/exceptional-family-member-program-efmp-coordinator/.