FOCUS program fortifies family resiliency

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Keesler families should be aware of a stress and resiliency program specific for them, known as FOCUS.

Families OverComing Under Stress, a program of the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, is designed for military families, couples and children facing ongoing stress and change. It promotes family strengths and supports families and children to help manage the challenges of military life.

"The misconception is that it is only for families that are in the state of deployment -- pre-deployment or reintegration -- but that is not the case," said Kim Perez, Keesler FOCUS director. "Our program is for anyone in the military dealing with transition. It could be families who have just arrived at Keesler, a child starting school, a new baby coming into the equation-- any form of transition."

The FOCUS program, while similar in ideology to the Comprehensive Airman Fitness program, provides tools for the entire family and can  be used with children as young as3 years old.

"Children can't always verbalize how they feel, and FOCUS has tools for them to express that in sessions with families," said Perez.

The help provided by FOCUS isn't only for traditional nuclear families, either.  Single parents, young couples, any form of family of any branch of service may attend FOCUS training.

"Parents leaving for training, going on temporary duty assignments, deployments, breakdowns in communication," said Perez. "We see a lot of issues there, and we have the tools to help."

The small staff at the Keesler FOCUS office is comprised of master level counselors, but they are not providing counseling. This is an important distinction and makes FOCUS a unique team in assisting with family issues.

"It's important to emphasis that we are counselors by trade, but that's not what we're doing," said Perez. "We're not doing anything intrusive. We're just introducing skills to families, and if they need more help, we can connect them with the appropriate referral in the community or through other military agencies."

Sessions with the FOCUS staff have families working on communication, goal-setting, problem solving, and managing emotions.

"When we have families come through our program, they make a time map," said Perez. "It's an opportunity for parents to map out experiences and how they felt about them, but we also do this with children and sometimes the results are surprising.

"You'll have teenagers say that they want everyone to stop fighting and spend time together, or children who think parents who are on temporary duty assignments or changing station are mad at them.  Once we figure that out, we can devise a plan for how to fix the situation."

Everyone deals with stress differently, and FOCUS aims to make everyone's place clearer. Using tools like the Feelings Foxes and the Feelings Thermometer, adults and children can easily gauge their emotions and compare, said Perez.

Families visit the office for individual help, but the program directors makes visits to the Forest City Community Center and the arts and crafts building to promote their program and offer free events for families, which include book reading and arts and crafts projects for families.

"For example, we had a hula-hoop game geared toward teaching the kids the importance of personal space, because the little ones don't usually understand that," said Perez.

When it comes to office visits, the team members let the families determine the goals and give them the tools.

"Our goal is to bring families closer together and giving them a better perspective of events," said Perez. "They realize through all the changes, the family is the constant -- they always have each other. They might be away from friends and family, but how it's about finding how to come together in a positive way."

Previously located at Hewes Hall, FOCUS has relocated to the Levitow Training Facility, Room 238, and is open to anyone on Keesler.

For more information, call 228-377-3453. After hours, call 228-224-3625.