RAF MILDENHALL, England --
The Northside Fitness Center at RAF Mildenhall transformed into a digital planetarium Feb. 10 for a special science event for exceptional family member program families to experience the joy of astronomy, geology and biology in an interactive way.
The giant mobile dome was placed in the fitness center to provide a hands on science experience. The mobile science dome is a fully computerized planetarium system and has specialized projection lenses to provide 360-degree, full-dome science shows, which offers a unique learning experience for children and adults.
“This event is not about science, or even simple fun, it’s about something intangible beyond what we can measure; it’s about joy and inclusion,” said Heejung Sackett, 100th Force Support Squadron Airman Family and Readiness Center, Exceptional Family Member Program family support specialist. “The show provided an opportunity for the families’ emotions and dreams to be explored without limits.
Families could also take Valentine’s Day themed family photos and enjoy various family activities together, such as storytime and arts and crafts.
“It happens that sometimes kids with special needs can be pushed away from society and treated a little different,” said Sydni Daniels, EFMP volunteer.
“The goal is for kids with special needs to not let their needs define them, and know that they can still do great things, they can still have fun and be a kid. Events like this help kids see their special needs do not limit them.”
The Air Force EFMP is designed to provide support to military family members with special needs. All branches of the military offer EFMP, a mandatory program, which comprises of three components working together to support military members and their families: medical, assignments and family support.
“I had absolutely no apprehensions with being a part of the EFMP program, I want to go to places that my son is taken care of,” said Denise Mutz, parent of exceptional family member. When we PCS next I want to make sure we go someplace where he can get the best services. That’s all I care about.”
The EFMP works together with assignment selection to provide coordinated support for the new assignment, making sure all possible medical and mental needs are met. Families depart from their local community with as little stress as possible, arriving at a new location where a family member’s special medical and/or educational needs can be met. Services provided by EFMP family support include permanent change of station, in/out relocation assistance, one-on-one consultation to navigate all of the available advocacy and support groups, recreational activities, and special needs related classes and workshops.
The RAF Mildenhall EFMP programs host numerous events throughout the year like family bowling night, sensory friendly movies and multiple EFMP-exclusive camps. They also offer EFMP specific classes such as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act class, special-needs financial planning and military child education coalition workshops.
“A really good benefit of EFMP is the ability to rent out certain products,” Mutz said. “We were able to test out a weighed blanket through them and those are really expensive. We wanted to test it out before we invested money into purchasing it and I’m glad we did because he did not like it. We were able to save hundreds of dollars. I’m glad they made that available.”
Finding and paying for quality child care for children with special needs can also present significant challenges for military families. Some children’s needs require unique child care considerations. The EFMP helps alleviate that stress by making sure there are proper medical and educational resources available when families arrive at their new location.
“The special needs that my child has means we can’t go to a typical babysitter,” Mutz said. “EFMP offers respite care that provides trained professionals to come into our home and see how we teach our children and later reinforce our teachings while they watch our children. My child doesn’t do well with others, so having them able to come to your home and not have to worry about other children being around and worrying about their safety is an amazing relief.”
EFMP is designed to support both the accomplishment of the mission and the well-being of families by ensuring necessary programs and processes are in place. Continuing education, outreach efforts, and genuine concern for each other can reduce the myths, and fears surrounding the program.