by Jim Boyle
Annette Kuyper, the director of military outreach for the Minnesota Army National Guard, announced this week Elk River has received final approval of its action plan to become a Yellow Ribbon community.
“Congratulations,” she said in an email announcement to the local steering committee. “We’re now ready to proclaim you as a Yellow Ribbon Community.”
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon grew out of efforts on the part of the state to reach out to soldiers and their families dealing with deployment. Service members and their families attend preparatory academies before a deployment and 30, 60 and 90 days after a deployment.
“It didn’t take us long to realize that wasn’t enough,” Kuyper said. “The fight over the checkbook didn’t happen when they were with other military families at re-integration training. The child having problems in school didn’t happen when they were with other youth at a re-integration event.
The news of Elk River’s final approval spread fast.
John Dietz, the mayor of Elk River, called it a great day for Elk River. He said the number of volunteers willing to help military families grows every day.
“The people of Elk River by their nature are a caring group, one that is reaching out to help military families while their loved ones are deployed,” Dietz said. “Who better for us to reach out to than families of soldiers who put their lives on the line for us every day? What we do for them seems small in comparison to what they do for us. But at least we are attempting to give something back.”
The local Yellow Ribbon steering committee will have to decide if it would like to participate in a regional proclamation or a local community event.
Don Heinzman, chair of the steering committee, said the certification is significant because Elk River is approved to offer community resources to military families, which is the basis for the Minnesota Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program.
“Our strategic plan mobilizes these resources for families of the deployed military and especially those who are returning from Afghanistan and Iraq,” Heinzman said, adding there are at least 186 National Guard personnel living in the immediate area, along with other members of the military services.
Those needing assistance are asked to call The Family Assistance Center in St. Cloud and they will put military families in contact with the local outreach program. The number is 320-255-2454. Those who want to volunteer services should call Kayla Stai at 763-367-7013.
An all-volunteer steering committee put together the action plan during the last 10 months. The group is planning to have a certification ceremony this summer.
“I am excited about the certification and look forward to a great Yellow Ribbon program evolving in Elk River,” Dietz said.