Volume LVIIIMay 2011Number 2

HELP FOR OUR HEROES

Left-right: Dania Sargent, Executive Director of the March of Dimes, Southern New Jersey; Betsy Zicari, Family Support Services Consultant at McGuire Air Force Base assisting with the baby showers under the direction of TSgt Kevin Casciano (sitting next to her); R.W. Grand Master Thomas K. Sturgeon; Col. and Bro. Harris Brooks; Kathy Boggan, Sr. V.P. for March of Dimes; and Rebecca Smith and Laren Perlmutter, also from the March of Dimes.

Through your faithful generosity, Pennsylvania Freemasonry's support for our troops has evolved to respond to their changing needs.

While we continue to provide calling cards to those deploying for and serving overseas and to those being cared for in the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the overall demand for the cards has decreased. The need for support in other ways, however, has been brought to our attention. And in true Masonic fashion, Pennsylvania Freemasons are stepping up to the task.

The Help for Our Heroes program has expanded to include three exciting new programs.

Baby Showers for Expectant Military Families

Imagine the thrill of receiving the news that you're going to be a parent! Ahead of you lies a lifetime of hopes and dreams for this new member of your family. What will you name her? Will he look like mom, dad or a combination of both? Wonder what sport he'll play? What will she be when she grows up?

Your next thought brings you back to reality.

Your job, your duty to your country, requires you or your spouse to be hundreds or even thousands of miles away while that precious child is growing in his mother's womb.

While on assignment, communication will be limited.

You may or may not be able to be present for the miracle that is birth.

Filled with a mix of worry and excitement, you embrace your responsibilities, understanding and accepting the many risks and hardships the military life entails.

But always at the forefront of your mind is:

Will our baby be healthy?

How will we be able to afford to provide our baby food, clothing and other necessities?

What an incredible sacrifice!

And yet, many of our troops and their families face this reality every day.

"Having a baby is a joyful experience, but it also can be stressful," said Bro. and Col. Harris Books. "Being in the military, either as a serviceperson or as the spouse of a serviceperson, can cause extra stress. During pregnancy, excessive stress is a major contributing factor to premature birth. We want to do all we can to educate mothers-to-be to reduce that risk."

In addition to heading up the Help for Our Heroes program for the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, Bro. Brooks also serves on the national board of trustees for the March of Dimes. He knows that support for pregnant military moms is a major area of need. To devise a way to fulfill this need through the Grand Lodge Help for Our Heroes program, he worked with the Family Support Services personnel at McGuire Air Force Base, the same people he works with to help distribute the calling cards.

Parenting classes are regularly scheduled at McGuire Air Force Base for expectant mothers every other month; families of those serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are eligible. Following each parenting class, the March of Dimes will help coordinate a baby shower.

"One of the missions of the March of Dimes is to provide education to expectant mothers about healthy lifestyle choices during pregnancy, Bro. Brooks said. "These baby showers offer the perfect opportunity to address important issues such as proper nutrition, not smoking during pregnancy, etc." The first shower is planned for June.

Your donations will provide each family $1,000 worth of baby products. This will include enough formula and diapers to last a year, as well as grooming products, basic clothing, and even a stroller and two car seats to accommodate the baby as he grows. And that's just the beginning.

Since many of their husbands are deployed and therefore not at home, many of these mothers-to-be live alone. Therefore, 20 Air Force sergeants will be on hand to put everything together for the women. Fire police will certify that the car seats are properly installed in each woman's vehicle.

"We're going to provide them with basically everything they need to be ready for when the baby comes," R.W. Grand Master Thomas K. Sturgeon said. "It's a meaningful way to show our appreciation for the sacrifice these families are making for our freedom. It's only right that as our troops are fighting for us overseas, they have comfort in knowing those of us back home are taking care of their loved ones."

"While our military are serving overseas in harm's way, our goal is that they will not have to worry financially for the first year of the child's life," Bro. Brooks said.

Pennsylvania Masons Support Veterans Courts

The Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom wars are now the longest in the U.S. history, and have yielded many veterans who return with instances of drug dependence, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and related problems. Like the veterans of prior eras, the transition from military to civilian life can be a challenging adjustment. As a result, veterans are overrepresented when it comes to psycho-social problems such as substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness, economic hardship and suicide. They are also over-represented in our jails, as one out of 10 people incarcerated is a military veteran.

Many of Pennsylvania's one million veterans are not aware of their eligibility for medical or mental health benefits provided by the government. Feeling helpless as a result of their struggle with drug abuse and/or mental health issues, some come into contact with the criminal justice system.

In recognition of our veterans' service to our country and their unique risks upon returning from duty, veterans courts are a growing movement in Pennsylvania as well as across the United States. The Pennsylvania statewide task force on veterans and the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania is co-chaired by Bro. and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, former U.S. Marine and Philadelphia police officer, and Michael E. Moreland, Director of Veterans Integrated Services Network.

Veterans courts are specialized courts reserved for non-violent veteran defendants charged with misdemeanor or felony offenses. Once a veteran offender is accepted into the program, he is referred to Veterans Affairs' care and is paired with a volunteer veteran mentor, who can help him through his criminal case and help him gain a more productive place in the civilian world. During this rigorous probation sentence, veterans receive intense supervision from probation officers and are required to appear at frequent intervals before a judge.

Veterans who are ready, willing and able to abide by the court sanctions and make the necessary changes in their lives through intervention, services and treatment, may have their charges dismissed upon successful completion of the program. Others are assured of an alternative sentence to prison upon conclusion.

The program has already seen success. Its recidivism rate is only 15 percent, much lower than that of traditional court models. It also helps curb overall costs by providing an alternative to costly taxpayer-funded incarceration.

Funding is always a key concern. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania has agreed to provide $20,000, through Help for Our Heroes, to implement a statewide online training program for volunteer veteran mentors who desire to help other veterans through their struggles.

Another significant concern is the courts' ability to provide quality mentors for the project. Any Masons who are qualified are strongly encouraged to consider becoming mentors for this program. More information about this opportunity will soon come through the District Deputy Grand Masters.

Bringing Telemedicine to Military Families

Since Dover Air Force Base in Delaware does not have its own hospital, it has partnered with several community hospitals and the A.I. duPont Hospital for Children, Wilmington, Del., to provide pediatric care and services to the families residing there. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, through Help for Our Heroes, has committed to providing a $40,000 grant toward a telemedicine program to facilitate high quality, lower-cost and more convenient services.

Once the telemedicine system is in place, a primary care physician at the base will be able to communicate remotely with a specialist at the A.I. duPont Hospital through interactive audiovisual media. Together, the physicians can consult, complete examinations and sometimes even perform medical procedures. The technology, developed by the military to guide the hands of surgeons caring for injured military in the field, will improve access to healthcare for patients at the Air Force Base since they can be seen by a specialist without having to travel. It also increases healthcare efficiency through better management of chronic diseases, shared health professional staffing and fewer or shorter hospital stays.

"Freemasons have a fervent love for our country and most especially for those willing to lay down their lives to protect us," Grand Master Sturgeon said.

Left-right: Bro. and PA Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, Bro. Sam Freeman, P.M., R.W. Grand Master Thomas K. Sturgeon and Col. and Bro. Harris Brooks. Not pictured: Bro. Anthony Stefanski. Bros. McCaffery and Brooks served together in the Air Force Homeland Defense and have come together again to provide Help for Our Heroes. Bros. McCaffery, Freeman, Brooks and Stefanski are all members of Brotherhood Lodge No. 126, Philadelphia. Left-right: Aleks Caskper, State Director for March of Dimes in Delaware; Jay Greenspan, M.D., Director of Pediatrics for A.I. duPont Institute and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital; R.W. Grand Master Thomas K. Sturgeon; Amanda Young, Executive Director of the March of Dimes in Eastern PA; and Eric Gibson, M.D., Associate Professor for Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at A.I. duPont Institute and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

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