Tavonne Bridges just wants to help.
That is what she has been doing for going on seven years, as the first-ever family support coordinator of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Exceptional Family Member Program, which was created to provide assistance for military members’ family members who have special needs.
Part of programming at the Airman & Family Readiness Center, Bldg. 2, Area A, the EFMP strives to address the family members’ medical, educational and environmental needs.
The program has three parts – Assignments, Medical and Family Support. The Air Force Personnel Center handles where military personnel with exceptional family members are assigned, while at this base, the Wright-Patterson Medical Center handles all enrollment paperwork and is the main contact for permanent change of station.
Family Support provides resources to the family. This includes local, state and federal assistance. The program is a key one, as Wright-Patterson AFB is one of the larger EFMP bases in the Air Force, with more than 730 families enrolled.
“I definitely enjoy this position,” said Bridges, who grew up as a “military brat” in Fairborn while her military parents worked at and retired here. “It’s been a work in progress.”
Knowing the area enhances the information she is able to offer EFMP families, she said. Bridges has arranged events that allow agencies, schools and other entities that would be beneficial to EFMP families to explain their mission. Past events have included special needs picnics, a talent show, a visit to a farm and other activities. In 2014, she even scheduled her wedding around a picnic, roping her groom, Nathaniel Bridges, a biomedical engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory, into taking photos. She also coordinates monthly classes or fun activities.
“Partnering with our deployed families, events can include an evening at the pool, a fun night at a play center, a question-and-answer session on individualized education plans or a discussion on special needs trusts,” she said. “If there is a need, I will make a way to get it done.”
A much-needed and appreciated aspect of EFPM Family Support is respite care. Provided by the Air Force, respite care is designed for the family to have in-home childcare provided to a child with special needs if he or she is 19 years old or younger and any siblings under the age of 12 years at no cost to the family.
Currently the program provides 12 hours a month with a certified and trained caregiver, but shortly that will be increased to 40 hours per month. The parents can choose to go out or stay in. Although the caregiver cannot transport the child, they can meet the family at an agreed-upon location.
The inclusion team is another entity and resource for EFMP families. This is a group made up of the EFMP-Family Support coordinator, base legal, childcare counterparts and developmental pediatricians. The team has been created to help those families that may or may not be getting the help and assistance needed within installation child development centers.
Senior Airman Jalynn Wilford, 88th Force Support Squadron Military Personnel Flight retentions counselor, said Bridges helped her daughter, 1-year-old Kahlani, who suffers from acid reflux and several other challenges, be put in day care at United Rehabilitation Services.
“Now she’s doing a lot better,” Wilford said. “She still has some developmental delays but she’s definitely improving.”
The URS placement, assisted through coordination with the EFMP, helps Wilford be able to carry out her part of the 88 FSS mission so she can better focus on work. URS nursing staff are able to assist Kahlani; otherwise Wilford might have had to interrupt her duty day to pick up her child. The same applies to Wilford’s co-parent, Senior Airman Raynard McGee II, laboratory technician, 88th Medical Group.
“It’s definitely taken a lot of stress off me and their dad,” Wilford said. “(EFMP) is a lot of resources we didn’t know of until we got into this program.”
Soon the couple’s first child, 2-year-old Raynard McGee III, will attend the same inclusive daycare facility.
Some of the EFMP-Family Support’s successes Bridges points to include children able to bowl, tolerate crowds, become more social and even earn black belts in tae kwon do.
“It’s amazing; I’ve seen such growth in the kids,” she said. “It’s a good feeling because you know how far they’ve come – it’s inspiring.”