Why does 7-year-old Michael Trader like the deployment club at Wilson Elementary? “Because it’s a lot of fun to remember my dad,” said the second-grader, who was a part of the club during his dad’s previous deployments.
Kids in the club — right now around 70 — meet with school counselor Evelyn Montgomery once a week to make a project, read a story or just talk about their feelings.
“There’s always something going on here,” said Montgomery, who’s led the club for 10 years.
“The goal of this deployment group is to let the kids know somebody cares about them and that they have a place they can come and feel at ease,” she said. “If they want to cry, they can cry. If they want to laugh, they can laugh. They have a place they can share their feelings, share their fears. This (club) is a refuge for them.”
Every school on Fort Benning has a deployment club for children whose parents are deployed or TDY for three months or longer. Wilson Elementary’s most recent project with the club was decorating pillowcases. Students drew pictures of their families on the pillowcases, so the deployed parents could be close to family every night.
“I think she’s going to like it because she always likes the stuff me and my brother make,” said 8-year-old Zion Allen, who decorated a pillowcase for his mom, SSG Denise Allen, with the help of his little brother, 5-year-old Zarion Tripp.
“I love her. I love everything about her,” Zion said. “(The club) helps me get my feelings out. I get to express my feelings, happy and sad.”
The children started the project in September and finished it up this week.
“Things like this — even where you do a pillowcase — it’s empowering to them,” Montgomery said. “Sometimes we don’t know what to say, but many times there are things we can do. And that’s the whole point of this … they’re actually doing something.”
It means a lot to parents, too. Ten-year-old Makenzie Patterson made a pillowcase for her dad last year when he first deployed to Iraq.
“He liked it very much,” she said. “He hung that one on the wall where he could look at it in the mornings, and sometimes he would take it off and sleep with it.”
Over the course of the six-month period, students in the club have decorated more than 50 pillowcases. Now, they will move on to their next project: making clothespin guardian angels — something “tangible” for the kids that will remind them of protection, Montgomery said.
Meanwhile, they will continue to meet to share their feelings, build camaraderie and learn to cope with the deployment, she said.“It is tough,” Montgomery said. “When my dad was deployed in Vietnam, we didn’t even have a counselor. There was no support group. I remember just thinking how terrible this is that there’s nobody to talk to.
“I guess that’s why I really have such a passion for this; I can say, ‘I know how you feel because I’ve been there.”
Now, things are different. Every school on post has both a counselor and a deployment club — and that support matters, Montgomery said.