Sponsors are compass for newcomers

Triff/Shutterstock.com

It can be confusing, if not overwhelming, when nearly everything in life is new. Relying on some kind of compass to navigate the new environment can be very helpful. The sponsorship programs for spouses, civilians, adolescents and Soldiers are exactly that: a kind of compass that helps newcomers transition smoothly into their new lives. While Soldiers and civilian employees normally start out their work pretty quickly after arrival, and thus have the possibility to have questions answered by coworkers, spouses often stay at home and have to struggle with the obstacles of daily life in a new country.

“We constantly need spouse sponsors,” said Gigi Wilson, the Relocation Readiness Program manager, who is responsible for the Spouse Sponsorship Program. If the sponsorship program is run the right way, newcomers feel welcome and part of the community, she said. When people know there is someone, they are not alone; lots of problems can be prevented.

Sponsors can make a big difference, and on average, newcomers get used to their new homes within some weeks. Potential sponsors receive a one-hour online training, and a one- to two-hour face-to-face training to make them feel comfortable helping spouses integrate into their new lives. If questions or problems arise that the sponsor cannot handle, ACS is always a good resource for help. They have counselors who help with transitional depressions, Family issues and other problems.

Sponsors are expected to give a warm welcome, answer lots of questions on daily life and give tours of the garrison and the surrounding areas. If sponsors put themselves in the shoes of the newcomers, and remember their own arrival, they are probably doing the right thing, said Maurice Walter, Army Community Service sponsorship coordinator.

However, not only the spouses benefit from the program: new and long-lasting friendships might arise, and every sponsor is registered in the ACS volunteer program, the hours are tracked, and a volunteer service record is created, which can be added to the resume. When searching for a new job, this can be of great help.

Soldiers and civilians who change duty stations within the Army usually receive a Sponsorship Program Counseling and Information Sheet where they can request a sponsor for themselves. Walter said if the spouse also needs a sponsor, that can be indicated in the additional comments section; however, new spouses are always welcome to contact the ACS Spouse Sponsorship Program to have a sponsor assigned. Sponsors and spouses are normally matched to be in similar life situations.

For spouses who accompany their husbands or wives for the first time, there are additional opportunities to get used to Army life abroad. They can, for example, take part in Army Family Team Building trainings to learn about military life. The sponsorship program is also a chance to meet people and get involved.

ACS Volunteer Coordinator Mary Cheney used to be a spouse sponsor. “I enjoyed being a sponsor because I like to be able to share the knowledge that I have gained having been here. And it made me feel good to be able to make the transition easier for people who come here. Moving to a new place can be very scary, especially when you do not speak the language,” Cheney said.