PEPPERELL — Baby and petsitter databases, “wounded warriors” awareness stickers and monthly veteran’s breakfasts are ways that Fayetteville, N.C., Jacksonville, Texas, and Pepperell have been aiding soldiers through their respective Community Covenants.
Friday morning, representatives from Pepperell’s Army Community Covenant met with Maria Lloyd, who works with community relations for the U.S. Army Community Covenant at the Pentagon. Lloyd was on an outreach tour across Massachusetts, her first time visiting the state, which is one of 17 states under her watch.
A Community Covenant is what Lloyd called an “official platform for commitment” by a group of people to help a population of soldiers in a given area. Some are started by local VFWs, others by businesses, non-profits, government officials and, often, ordinary residents concerned about troops’ well being. The Pepperell Army Community Covenant was signed on April 19, 2010.
According to her, she was there to learn about different strategies that Massachusetts is employing for grassroots veterans aid by meeting both people involved in the efforts and service members who benefit from them. Twenty-four Massachusetts communities have signed covenants and during her visit she met with other communities, including Billerica and Tyngsboro, who are looking to sign covenant’s of their own within a few months.
“Massachusetts is doing absolutely wonderful things, thank you very much for being apart of it,” Lloyd said.
Sometimes, she said, she finds that the community has signed covenants that are inactive. Others where governors or other officials get involved are well organized and have support, but activities and services do not trickle down to individual towns well.
“We are documenting the success stories though,” Lloyd said. “Good covenants help fill gaps that the Department of Defense and Army can’t.”
Organized groups and well-established support systems do work, according to her. On-call handy persons, who can fix cars, do pest removal, repair refrigerators, shovel snow and do other odd jobs for servicemen are very effective.
Identifying groups in need is another form of support. Single veterans who have pets — who watches them when they go abroad? Military families stricken with illness — trips to and from the doctors office? Soldiers who have suffered major burns and now need tinted windows — how can the police identify that as a medical issue?
“I am also gathering solder testimonials,” Lloyd said “I’ve found that when deployed, it eases stress and calms them knowing they have a local support group.”
Sharing ideas is the next step, and Lloyd is facilitating state-wide meetings of covenant groups. Massachusetts is the only place that defers real estate taxes while a soldier is abroad, Lloyd said, and that unique programs like that should be shared with the nation.
Getting more covenant’s signed is just as important.
“The website offers ideas on how to start them, we want to continue to add to the list of contacts there and grow the resources section,” Lloyd said.
Covenant Committee Chairman Stephen Themelis said the community has been responding well to events like the monthly Veteran’s Breakfast and care package parties.
“Our goal was to get as many people involved as possible,” he said.
The military honor roll, located by the rotary in downtown, has roughly 70 names on it. Themelis called the sign a living tribute from the town to servicemen. Working closely with Tony Saboliauskas, VFW Post 3291 quartermaster, that honor roll has been kept up well.
“They have to come to us, we cant go and seek them out using private information,” Saboliauskas said. “We are trying to publicize our mission.”
Describing what he called a “road map,” Saboliauskas said that vertically and horizontally integrating all servicemen support programs from every branch, governmental and local, grassroots organization would be a great way to provide them with easy access to the help they need.
“We want to be able to help any population of soldier, we don’t draw the line anywhere,” he said.
Lawrence Library, where the meeting was held, has also been evolving as a resource for returning soldiers and veterans. Library Director Deb Spratt said that she and her staff have been responding to servicemen’s needs and will soon be implementing a career building program.
“We are going to be providing resume workshops and networking help, they will use template, but update it based on skills they had learned in the service,” she said.
For the library, the next step is to be sure servicemen know where they can go for help, be it there or elsewhere.
“Pepperell has extremely well-received military holidays, and the covenant brings that spirit year round,” said Town Administrator John Moak.
Veteran’s Service officer Joe Mazzola is shared with Ashby and Townsend as well, and with the increased number of veterans claiming benefits, his short office hours on Mondays are booked full of appointments. Moak said the covenant has always done good work to compliment that of the VSO’s.
Sara Walkovich, a legislative aide for State Rep. Sheila Harrington, talked about Operation Patriot Pride, a joint effort between Harrington’s office and the covenant to pull together donations fo a homecoming of troops in the morning hours of DATE.
“We had a tricky time frame, but the community responded, we pulled together $8,000 and a lot of food donations in under a week,” she said.
For more information on Community Covenant, visit Army.mil/community.
Follow Luke Steere at twitter.com/LSNashobaPub.