The Armed Forces Financial Network (AFFN) has partnered with military banks and defense credit unions since 2004 to support local efforts to provide more than 700 matching grants in the last 15 years. Each year, when AFFN opens their grant application, banks and credit unions applying for matching grants must provide their plan to use the funds. In 2018, when First Arkansas Bank and Trust applied for their grant to begin the Strengthening Relationships Program at Little Rock Air Force Base, they answered a call to support an important need.
Noemi Gallardo is a key spouse in the 19th Maintenance Squadron (19 MXS) at Little Rock Air Force Base (AFB). The key spouse is a direct line of communication between unit leadership and the spouses of that unit. Key spouses also serve as volunteers and provide support and guidance for all spouses in the unit. As part of the key spouse team, Noemi meets with other key spouses and leadership from their unit and the installation, including commanders, chiefs, and first sergeants on a regular basis.
In 2018, active duty and spouse suicides devastated the entire Little Rock community. Leadership at Little Rock AFB, working closely with the key spouse team, recognized that marital problems were a likely factor in the suicide cases. Their idea was to get to the root of the problem and create a positive environment for couples to work together on repairing and strengthening their relationships. However, there was a need to fund the program. Noemi, who is also an employee at First Arkansas Bank and Trust, brought the idea to her leadership at the bank, Rhonda Banks and Brian Kaelin, who agreed with Noemi, offered FAB&T’s financial support, and applied for the AFFN matching grant to double their contribution to this vital program.
In cooperation with the installation’s chaplain, the FAB&T team created the Strengthening Relationships Program, a 4-session program using proven programs such as True Colors, 5 Love languages, and Green Dot. At the end of these sessions, the couples attend a retreat at on off-base location to continue relationship strengthening classes in a stress-free environment, using the time to reunite as a couple. The attending couples are identified and referred by unit leadership, fellow airmen, and/or key spouses.
In the fourth quarter of 2018, Little Rock AFB’s program graduated four couples, and the first sergeant and counselors continue to follow-up with the couples on a regular basis. The initial round of feedback had very positive results.
The First Arkansas Bank and Trust team is applying for another AFFN matching grant this year to continue this program. The next session will begin in April 2019.
Noemi is proud to be part of this program, not only as a unit key spouse, but also as an employee at her bank. It is clear from Noemi’s description of the program that she is passionate about it and the continuity of support it offers her Air Force family: “As a follow-up to the program, the 19th MXS has invited off base counselors and the LRAFB [Little Rock AFB] Mental Health team to set up offices in their squadron building. They invite guest speakers to every Commander’s Call to talk about the great effects of suicide. They also go to each flight to try and get to know the Airmen. The counselors try and understand their job to see where the stress factors begin for airmen. Also, they are focusing on building relationships with the airmen in order for them to feel more comfortable speaking up when the help is needed.”
Noemi’s passion recently caught the attention of another Air Force installation. Whiteman AFB has also reached out to Noemi and her team to establish a similar program there. Currently, they are sharing ideas and best practices to better support airmen and their families. The Little Rock AFB and First Arkansas Bank and Trust team is more than willing to share their experiences and lessons learned with others who may want to start a similar program at their installation.
First Arkansas Bank & Trust has been participating in the AFFN Matching Grant program since 2008 using the funds to support local events and programs in the Little Rock AFB community. For more information about the AFFN matching grant program, visit AFFN.org or contact the Association of Military Banks of America at (firstname.lastname@example.org).