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Operation Military Kids connects military families

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It's sometimes hard to help other people when no one really knows you're out there. But Ann Quigley is hoping to change that soon.

Quigley knows well what it's like to have a husband who is deployed and be the one left behind with small children. She's been there. Back in 2003, her husband, Trevor Quigley, was gone. She was working with Dakota County's 4-H program. It was hard to juggle everything.

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Eventually, she left her position with 4-H - a big step since Quigley had grown up in the Dakota County 4-H program. But the time had come for her to move on, so she did. Sort of.

Just a day after leaving 4-H Quigley got a call from Amber Runke, program specialist with the 4-H system. Runke asked Quigley if she might be interested in taking on a new project rather than leaving entirely. It was a project that embraced 4-H programming, but was designed to help families who were not in the 4-H program.

The new program was called Operation: Military Kids, and Quigley was just right for the job. She was a mom, she was a wife and she was home while her husband was deployed. Quigley knew what uncertainty was, she knew how the family dynamic changed when her husband was deployed. And on top of it, she knew how 4-H worked.

She was told she could work as little or as much as she wanted. She would be a regional coordinator for events. Quigley took the position.

Operation: Military Kids is a support group of sorts. It's a series of programs and activities for the children of parents who are enlisted. It gives kids a way to meet other kids who know what they're going through - especially while their parents are deployed - and it gives parents a network and support group to lean on.

The program has lots of endorsements. Besides 4-H, OMK is supported by the University of Minnesota Extension, American Legion, Minnesota Department of Education, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network, Army Reserve and the National Guard.

Quigley works mainly with students who are in kindergarten through fifth grade. They do everything from make crafts and play games to going on trips to the zoo or waterparks.

Developing

relationships

Quigley mostly works with families in the southern Dakota County area but sometimes she's put in contact with families from other parts of the county, as well.

Gradually, the families are brought together through activities or events. They start to develop friendships

The adult family members get to know one another, and so do the kids. Quigley thinks that's one of the greatest aspects of Operation: Military Kids.

"We give time for sharing what they're going through," Quigley said. "That's really nice for them, because they know they're being around other kids who are experiencing the same things. That's why it's kind of nice for us."

Operation: Military Kids also provides counselors for the kids to talk to when they need. Quigley said those counselors come in handy when it comes to talking to kids about sensitive issues like worrying about a parent or older sibling who has recently been deployed.

"The kids are with the counselors all day long, so if they notice there are some issues, they can sit them down and talk one-on-one," she said.

Both adults and kids appreciate the fact they're meeting with the same families on a regular basis. That way they're able to build some trust in the people they're meeting with. They know others are having the same trials and tribulations. And they know they have someone to talk to about it.

At least, the people who know about it do. That's why Quigley is reaching out to her communities. She and her family now live in Hastings, so she's trying to spread the word about Operation: Military Kids around Dakota County. She's been there. She's done that. And she'll likely be there again.

"I'm just guessing that my kids will benefit from these programs someday, too," she said. "It's nice to be able to give back when you can."

For more information, go to www.operationmilitarykids.org.

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Michelle Leonard
Michelle Leonard started covering the Farmington community in June, 1994. Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the Farmington American Legion Auxiliary Unit 189, and acts as the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 
(651) 460-6606
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