Fort Bliss | El Paso Times | January 18th, 2013
A Fort Bliss organization dedicated to bettering the lives of junior enlisted soldiers and their families is thriving in its new location.
The Junior Enlisted Family Center is one of the marquee tenants in the new Trading Post complex, which opened on Sept. 19 at 1717 Marshall Road. The old Commissary building was renovated and now is a centralized location that houses some of the installation’s top volunteer and service organizations.
The Junior Enlisted Family Center was able to triple its size from a cramped 2,000 square feet to a spacious 6,000 square feet. It was previously located at 51 Slater in an older part of West Fort Bliss.
The move has also allowed the center to double the number of people it helps and add a dedicated classroom for the first time, said Nina Carey, coordinator for the Junior Enlisted Family Center.
“We are able to help more people and take in more donations,” Carey said. “We have more stuff to give families and are able to be better organized. Also, the location is better. We are in a more centralized location, sharing the building with other organizations.”
The Junior Enlisted Family Center, which is run by the Armed Services YMCA, has two main programs dedicated to helping soldiers with a rank of sergeant or below and their families. Single soldiers of the same ranks and junior service members from other branches are also eligible.
The first program is what Carey describes as a “free thrift store.”
Eligible service members and their families can get up to 10 free items per day per family. This part of the center is stocked with donated items such as irons, toasters, clothing, toys, books and baby items.
Larger items such as furniture and baby strollers are available, but there is a waiting list for them, Carey said.
This part of the center helps junior service members and their families save some money and concentrate on paying their bills, she said. “It’s just being resourceful,” she said.
These free items can help couples who have just gotten married, families who have moved across the country for a new assignment and those who need to stretch a family budget, Carey said.
The center also has an emergency food pantry that’s available to help junior enlisted service members and their families who are going through temporary tough times. Service members need a referral from Army Community Service, their unit chaplain or their unit command.
Typically, a family can get a box of nonperishable food that can last several days, Carey said. Larger supplies of food are available if there is a greater need, she added.
Those who are eligible for the food pantry can also get a small supply of diapers if they are available, Carey said.
About 500 to 600 families are helped by the free thrift store each month. About 80 families receive help from the food pantry each month.
“A lot of soldiers and their families aren’t aware of us, even though we’ve doubled the number of people we help,” Carey said. “We go to deployment briefings, newcomer briefings. We’re trying to get the word out.”
Goodwill Industries of El Paso is one organization that doesn’t need to be reminded about what the Junior Enlisted Family Center does.
Goodwill has supported the center over the years, said Arturo Orrantia, its vice president of operations. Goodwill, for instance, recently donated about $1,100 in vouchers to the center for service members and their families to use at Goodwill stores.
Money for the vouchers was raised through the annual Sun Bowl clothing drive, and the Junior Enlisted Family Center was one of a handful of organizations that benefited.
“I’ve seen how they work and how they help military families,” Orrantia said.
Carey distributes the vouchers based on need.
Other tenants at the Trading Post include the Fort Bliss Thrift Store and A Little Bit of Bliss Gift Shop, which are both run by the Officer & Civilian Spouses’ Association as ongoing fundraising efforts.
Angie Tabat, president of OCSA, said the Trading Post has brought together organizations that can now more easily work together to benefit the Fort Bliss community.
“Being close to each other physically makes it easier to build connections, work together and be a team,” Tabat said.
The Fort Bliss NCO Wives Club and the Enlisted Spouse Club have meeting space inside the Trading Post, too.