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Yellow Ribbon Community on its way

WORTHINGTON -- Providing local support to military families is the premise behind the Yellow Ribbon Communities campaign being launched in Worthington. An informational meeting is planned at 7 p.m. tonight at the Worthington City Hall Council Chambers, and anyone interested in helping with the program is encouraged to attend.

Jeff Gay, program coordinator with the Minnesota Military Family Assistance Center at Marshall, will be on hand to talk about the Yellow Ribbon campaign and what will need to be accomplished to have Worthington proclaimed a Yellow Ribbon Community.

"We're looking for people to come in and be part of the steering committee," Gay said. While he encourages anyone interested to volunteer, there is a special emphasis on those with skills in education, law enforcement, ministerial, emergency services, health care, local government and business-related areas.

"Primarily, when we need assistance, we look for people from those areas to assist," he said.

The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the spouse of a deployed soldier to ask for help, whether it's receiving an offer to babysit a couple of hours a week, clean out the gutters or provide financial services and counseling resources.

"Sometimes it's just nice to have someone stop over with supper," said Gay.

As for business involvement in the campaign, Gay said they aren't asking for discounts, but rather seeking businesses who want to be "military friendly."

The Yellow Ribbon Communities program was established nearly two years ago as an additional resource for military families. It was created out of a need witnessed the last time Minnesota experienced a major military deployment. National Guard soldiers, including those from the Pipestone-Luverne and Jackson-Fairmont units, returned home in late July 2007 after a 22-month deployment.

"Through the Military Family Assistance Centers, we saw needs that weren't being taken care of as well as they should be because we didn't have resources that were local," Gay said. "Now, we'll have a calling list for families in trouble and we'll have the help."

Al and Pam Thiner of Worthington have been instrumental in getting the Yellow Ribbon Community campaign off the ground locally.

Their youngest son is among the area's National Guard soldiers now in training for a one-year deployment to Kuwait with the First Battalion 125th Field Artillery.

"I think it's going to be so much easier if there is a problem," said Al Thiner of the potential to have local people to help spouses of deployed military, in particular. "You have these friends in this group that can get stuff taken care of for this family member."

Thiner is hoping to have about 20 to 25 people volunteer to be on the committee, and said anyone is welcome. He even encouraged 4-H clubs to get involved.

"You don't have to be real good at anything to do it -- it's just something that you can do to help," he said.

Already, communities including Luverne, Willmar, Montevideo and New Ulm have received their proclamations as Yellow Ribbon Communities in southwest Minnesota, and Gay said Fairmont, Jackson, Pipestone, Marshall and Madison are all working on the process.

All of them coordinate with the Military Family Assistance Center to serve those families in need. There are 11 offices throughout the state, with the 25-county southwest region served by the center in Marshall.

"We've been around since the first Gulf War," said Gay. The centers work in conjunction with county Veterans Service Officers and Yellow Ribbon Communities, and its 11 employees are contracted through the state as mandated by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The centers providing military families with connections for support within the community, basic information on military legal issues, pay and health benefits, referrals for financial counseling, applications for Minnesota Military Family Foundation grants, referrals for home maintenance, official information regarding the unit's deployment and other assistance as requested.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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