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This week’s Friday Field Notes features Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth,  from Purdue University, here to talk about her work with the Military Family Research Institute as well as share some great resources for professionals working with military families.


Shelley M. MacDermid Wadsworth is a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Purdue University, where she also directs the Military Family Research Institute and the Center for Families.  Dr. MacDermid Wadsworth holds an M.B.A. in Management and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Human Development and Family Studies from The Pennsylvania State University.  Her research focuses on relationships between job conditions and family life, with special focus on military families.  Her research has been published in scientific outlets including the Journal of Marriage and Family and the Academy of Management Journal, and has been funded by a variety of federal, state, and philanthropic organizations.  Dr. MacDermid Wadsworth is a fellow of the National Council on Family Relations, and a recipient of the Work Life Legacy Award from the Families and Work Institute and the Violet Haas Award for Leadership on behalf of women at Purdue University.  Dr. MacDermid Wadsworth has served on federal advisory committees for the Department of Defense and the Institute of Medicine, and has testified in Congress regarding military and veteran families.  In 2012, Dr. MacDermid Wadsworth received the Morrill Award from Purdue University in recognition of outstanding career achievements that have had an impact on society, and in 2016, Purdue University received the Kellogg Award from the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities and the Higher Education Civic Engagement Award from the Washington Center in recognition of the work of the Military Family Research Institute.


Greetings to all of our colleagues across the country from the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University.  I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to this blog!  I was asked to say a little bit about MFRI’s work in community capacity-building.

As I’m sure is true for all of you, we are very influenced by ecological perspectives.  We are very aware that military and veteran families must function within a complex array of systems, which makes it especially important that the systems work as well as possible to support them – and also to benefit from their skills and leadership.  In most cases the helping professionals military and veteran families interact with are civilians in local communities.  This is especially true here in Indiana, where there are no large military installations.

We spend a lot of time at MFRI trying to help community-based systems to work better for military and veteran families.  In an ideal world, we want any place that families turn for help to be well-educated and well-prepared to serve them. Especially in states like Indiana where just about everyone who serves is in the Reserve Component, it is sometimes the case that professionals lack familiarity with their issues.  I think our general approach has three key characteristics:

  • As much as possible, we try to focus on existing systems or resources that military or veteran families might already be coming into contact with.
  • We focus a great deal on ‘linking mechanisms’ – things that might draw people to use available resources and make them easier to access and better-coordinated.
  • We try to work toward ‘vertical integration,’ meaning strong connections between local, state and national organizations.

One recent example of our work that I was asked to say a bit about is Joining Community Forces, which is the National Guard Bureau’s effort to extend the Obama Administration’s Joining Forces initiative throughout the states.  Each state is pursuing the program in its own way, and the approach of the Indiana National Guard (INNG) has been somewhat unique.   INNG leaders decided to create a shared leadership structure for Joining Community Forces Indiana, and invited MFRI as a representative of Indiana’s land grant university, and representatives from the state and federal departments of Veterans Affairs to co-lead the effort.  Across the country, there aren’t too many examples of robust collaborations among these three entities, so we’ve been pretty excited to be involved.  Joining Community Forces Indiana is coordinated at the state level by an executive steering committee, supported by working groups (currently four) that are created on an as-needed basis to respond to issues that have arisen across the state.  It connects to local mobilization groups of volunteers working in more than 20 communities around the state that are led by National Guard family assistant specialists, MFRI outreach staff, and others.  Regular communication occurs between the state- and local-level committees, and once per year, the Battlemind to Home conference brings representatives of the communities and the state together to share information about the needs and opportunities related to military and veteran families, and develop strategic priorities for the coming year.  Community mobilization groups in 2016 organized 20 Stand Down events across the state as a way of bringing local organizations together to learn about, and support, local military-connected families.  Now that the Department of Defense is piloting a Building Healthy Military Communities initiative in six states, and MyVA Communities representatives are being put into place across the country, there are expanded opportunities for synergy.

Two tools we’ve developed at MFRI that we would be happy to make available to you include the How to Help publication series, brochures aimed at different professionals in civilian communities who want to learn more about how to assist military and veteran families. There are 16 editions so far, each tailored to a specific audience such as teachers, pastors, behavioral health providers, higher education professionals, and others.  Please let me know if you would like to learn how to obtain copies.

Another tool you might find useful is Measuring Communities , a web-based data repository created in collaboration with the Purdue Center for Regional Development that contains information about military and veteran families in every part of the country.  It brings publicly available data and data collected by partner organizations together with tools that allow users to learn more about their local area, compare their area to others, and see how their area is changing over time.  Measuring Communities is not publicly available, but is available to organizations for their use.  Please let me know if you would like to learn more about how to get access for your organization.

I am a firm believer that Cooperative Extension professionals can and do play a very important role in supporting military and veteran families, and I’m a big fan of the cooperative relationships that are in place between USDA, DoD, and the VA.  Cooperative Extension educators are very well-prepared to offer trainings to military and veteran families about a variety of topics including financial literacy, building successful family relationships, maintaining good health, and other topics. Cooperative Extension professionals have important expertise in community development and many other domains.  Sometimes it takes creative thinking and innovation to figure out how to connect these systems to the way that military support systems work, and that is what we at MFRI like to try to tackle.

Best wishes for the holidays, thanks for all you do, and thanks for being such great colleagues!


We’d like to thank Shelley for her contribution to this blog, as well as for the great work that she does with MFRI. Below there is are links for both of the tools that Shelley mentioned as well as a link to their website which is full of other great resources including publications and a sign-up for the MFRI e-newsletter. We’ve also included links for two books which are excellent resources for professionals working with military families. 




Resource Links:

How to Help Series

Measuring Communities

MFRI Resources & Publications

Book: Serving Military Families: Theories, Research and Application, 2nd Edition

Book: Risk and Resilience in Military and Veteran Families