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Panel Offers Resources to Local Military Families

Military families learn to whom they can turn for help, thanks to a Military Education Expo held Wednesday.

Thirty-two-year-old Nichia Huff of Murrieta needs help for her son.

At 6 months old, Huff's son suffers from neurological problems, including seizures. Her husband is in the Army National Guard Recruiters, and Huff knows the family has access to a better care plan for their son. She just needed to make the connection.

Huff was among several Military families who turned out Wednesday evening at Murrieta Mesa High School for an inaugural Military Education Expo presented by the Murrieta Valley Unified School District's Military Support Advisory Committee.

There Huff was introduced to Cynthia Lopez, a case worker for the Exceptional Family Member Program, Marine Corps, a program that assists Military families with special needs.

"I wanted to come out so I could find out how to help my baby with special needs, and she can put me in touch with the right people," said Huff, who learned about the expo through the school district.

Lopez said she carries a caseload of at least 500 families in Riverside County, and said she would be able to point Huff in the right direction.

"A lot of the people on (Camp Pendleton) specifically move out here because of the good schools," Lopez said. "A significant number of my cases are in Temecula and Murrieta."

In addition to Lopez, a panel of several Military liaisons provided resources and programs families can utilize when they need help, such as when their spouse is deployed.

"Being a Military child is a challenge," said Devin Price, Project FOCUS site director at Naval Base San Diego. "It makes for very resilient children."

She encouraged parents and teachers to familiarize themselves with the stress created by deployment.

"It can affect learning," Price said. "Listening is the biggest tool a person can use."

Winchester resident Tony Gomes is a work and family life consultant at the Fleet and Family Support Center, Naval Base Coronado. He encouraged families to take advantage of the programs available, such as financial planning.

"It is no secret Southern California is an expensive place to live in," Gomes said.

Another organization on hand was Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County, which recently expanded to include the Inland Empire. The chapter recently received a grant to service this area—Military children especially, said Joy O'Campo on behalf of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

"We know there is a big need in Military families," O'Campo said.

Wednesday's event was an outreach meant to bridge the gaps those who live off base may experience.

"This was the first district-wide event," said Karen Parris, spokesperson for the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, who helped organize and publicize the expo.

"It is really good information for our families and we hope to make it a bigger event next year," Parris said. "We want all southwest Riverside County families to come and take advantage of these resources."

The Military Advisory Committee was approved by the school board last year, and now several Murrieta schools have school site Military support representatives.

Sharon Minton is a school site representative at Antelope Hills Elementary, and speaks from experience. Her husband is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, currently stationed at March Air Force Base in Moreno Valley. The couple's children, 7-year-old Luke and 9-year-old Emma, have moved three times in their short lives—most recently from Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

Minton said the good schools in Murrieta were a draw when looking to rent a home near March AFB. In addition to her role as school site representative, Minton also volunteers as a key spouse mentor for her husband's squadron.

"When you have a limited time in a community, you can either sit at home or enjoy everything. We know we are only here for three years."

jasmine wilmany March 01, 2012 at 10:40 PM
If any deserves any love and support, it is the Huff family. Nichia is the most pro-active person I know. She is also extremely thoughtful and caring for everyone she knows. If there is another way to help this family, we civilians would love to know what more we can do.
Kevin March 02, 2012 at 04:15 PM
That's my wife in the white jacket, Tabitha. She is great at what she does. Camp Pendleton.

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