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Fayetteville Cares – Community Joins Hands to Support Military Families

There will be a time in Fayetteville when the spouse of a deployed soldier can call one of five area car dealers for free assistance should the family car break down at a busy intersection or on a lonely stretch of road. There will be time next spring when a repairman will come to the home of a deployed soldier and start a stubborn lawn mower that has been sitting idle in a garage during the winter.

The source of those services is Fayetteville Cares, a communitywide support system for deployed soldiers, their families and for wounded warriors who have returned home after serving their country.

Fayetteville Cares is an endeavor that seeks to organize and promote community support for soldiers and their families. It seeks to augment current military programs via support from community businesses, organizations and individuals. It seeks to identify needs not being met by the military and find ways to meet those needs. It seeks to promote existing programs to those individuals who may need those services. Finally, Fayetteville Cares seeks to give interested citizens the opportunity to help through donations and volunteerism.

Fayetteville Cares began with the efforts of Joanne Chavonne, wife of Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne. For several years, Mrs. Chavonne has prepared care packages for deployed soldiers.

It all started when the Chavonnes rented the Rainbow Room on Hay Street during the mayor’s race. The Chavonnes wanted to use the Rainbow Room for other purposes so they decided to use it as a drop-off point for items to be sent to soldiers and airmen serving in Iraq.

“I didn’t want to start off with an empty table so I contacted local businesses for donations,” Mrs. Chavonne said. From there, the idea to help local soldiers and airmen took off like a desert storm. “The initial response was really overwhelming. After that, we had all these people who wanted to help, especially small businesses that didn’t have the resources to help on their own,” she said.

Mrs. Chavonne found a USO program that allowed citizens to donate $25 and the USO would send a care package to deployed service members. “I saw a way to localize it for our soldiers and airmen here,” she said.

Mayor Chavonne, ever the diligent husband, contacted Kirk deViere, then chairman of the Cumberland County Business Council. “Tony contacted me in January or February about how to engage the business community in this support effort,” deViere said. “We realized a lot of people want to be involved and there were a lot of programs out there that they could support,” said deViere, a former Army officer who served with the 3rd Infantry Division. He will serve as chairman of the Fayetteville Cares board until July 2008.

The Chavonnes and deViere began the planning process by reaching out to all the right people and organizations. They include representatives from Fort Bragg’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Division; USASOC Family Readiness; the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau; Methodist University; the media in the form of Time Warner; the Fayetteville Professional League; and individuals representing the community, military retirees and spouses.

“We tried to make sure all the organizations were at the table,” deViere said. The North Carolina League of Municipalities, which held its annual convention in Fayetteville in mid-October, agreed to adopt Fayetteville Cares as one of its charitable programs, Chavonne said.

Fort Bragg’s command team was contacted early in the process to get an idea of what was needed. “The last thing we want to do is duplicate programs or imply that the Army is not doing enough,” Chavonne said.

The discussions with the military were insightful. Among the recommendations was reducing the stress experienced by family members of soldiers with extended deployments. One way to reduce stress on an overextended spouse was to provide free day care once a month. Chavonne said a local automobile dealership agreed to pay for free child care one Saturday each month.

Another idea was to support the wounded warriors program by getting relatives to Army medical facilities that treat wounded soldiers “The Army provides transportation for spouses but not for parents of wounded soldiers,” Chavonne said.

Rebekah Sanderlin is serving on the Fayetteville Cares board. A mother and military spouse, she writes a column in the local newspaper and a blog on the Internet about her four-and-a-half years of marriage to a member of the military.

“The creation of Fayetteville Cares will send a huge and loud message to spouses that the community cares about them,” she said. “The psychological effect of knowing people want to help is a tremendously positive one,” she said.

Sanderlin said that while the military is generally self-reliant, there are not enough resources to provide the depth of programs required. “There’s not a lack of desire, rather a lack of resources. As a military spouse, I don’t want those resources at the expense of other military needs. I don’t want soldiers who are deployed to be short-changed,” she said.

Mrs. Chavonne says it’s a good fit for the community to fill the gaps in programs the military is not allowed or does not have the resources to fill, especially since there are so many individuals and organizations who want to help. “It’s become something much bigger than my little care-package program. Fayetteville Cares is a product of a host of people with vision of which I am only a small cog,” Mrs. Chavonne said.

Fayetteville Cares announced is official startup at an Oct. 10 news conference at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum. “The announcement went very well. We built momentum coming out of the gate,” deViere said.

Along with launching the initiatives of Fayetteville Cares, the group also announced a $100,000 fund-raising effort that will enable support of programs. Local media provided Fayetteville Cares with about $100,000 worth of advertising. The fund-raising effort, held in October, included a media blitz promoting Fayetteville Cares initiatives and asking for donations. “The mediathon is unprecedented cooperation among businesses that are normally competitors,” deViere said.

Businesses, organizations or individuals can make tax-deductible donations to Fayetteville Cares through the Cumberland Community Foundation. One-hundred percent of all donations goes directly to programming since all administrative expenses are provided through in-kind donations, deViere said.

“This is really an opportunity for Fayetteville to shine and set an example for other military communities,” Sanderlin said.