MilSpouse Fest 2017 hosted by MilitaryOneClick at the Courtyard by Marriott Jacksonville in Jacksonville, March 30 was far from the stereotypical “death by PowerPoint” military event with raffle prizes, a life-size game of Life and a twist on Family Feud.
Spouses wore pink, sparkling crowns and clutched cardboard cars as they participated in the event’s Game of Military Life.
Symbolizing the pink peg people from the iconic board game, the spouses were doing more than just having a good time, they were actresses in a physical representation of the various life-changing events that could be covered by insurance, specifically offered by Armed Forces Insurance.
Lead by Lori Simmons of AFI, the Game of Military Life aimed to educate the more than 200 military spouses present about the products that are available to them.
The Game of Military Life was one of many activities and presentations of the day at MilSpouse Fest.
MilitaryOneClick has been putting on MilSpouse Fests all over the country for the last two years.
Last year the military spouse run organization hosted four events, this year they upped the number to six.
MilSpouse Fests are put on in various parts of the United States with hopes of drawing spouses from every branch of the military, Danya Devine, senior manager of community events, said.
“We do it because we want spouses to come and make connections, and give them a day of appreciation, and hope they get a little education as well,” said Devine. “I love to watch the connections being made around the room. Everyone has their phone out and are swapping numbers.”
Devine, a Navy spouse of 22 years, remembered at the last event of 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida, a women won a raffle for a gift certificate to a local tire store.
Instead of wanting to keep the gift she knew she had no need for, she wanted to have it re-raffled to be given to someone who may need it.
The new winner was a young spouse with a baby who had woken up to a nail in her tire, and not a clue as to how to get it fixed.
“There was not a dry eye in the place,” said Devine. “It was awesome. There is one story like that from every single one of these events.”
JJ Montanaro, certified financial planner with USAA’s Military Advantage Group, said USAA’s support of the MilSpouse Fest was another way of showing their support for those not only in uniform but those standing behind them, and the organizations, like MilitaryOneClick that support this unique demographic.
The premier sponsor of the event, USAA,was on hand to host a game of Financial Feud putting a group of wives’ knowledge of all things money to the test.
Beyond helping educate spouses on preparing for the future, Montanaro’s favorite part of attending MilSpouse Fest is seeing connections being made between spouses.
“I love to see how this kind of organization can make a difference in peoples’ lives,” said Montanaro. “It is a great way for us to say, ‘thank you’ to a group of folks that sacrifice so much for all of us.”
Known as the Direction Diva, Judy Davis, a motivational speaker, presented programs called “You, Unleashed” as well as “Friendship by the Book,” both which spoke to defining what makes you special and offering those characteristics in the unique military lifestyle that forces constant rebuilding of one’s self and relationships.
Each spouse was provided a personal mirror and was asked to look into it and say what they saw first.
Most saw a stray hair or checked out their make-up.
Davis then instructed the crowd to turn their mirrors around and answer a list of fill-in-the-blank questions that had nothing to do with appearance like, their favorite thing about themselves, and what they feel they are best at as a military spouse.
Those answers were then written on the back of the mirror, and each spouse then read them out loud to their table.
“We are all different,” said Davis. “We must embrace each other’s differences. When we don’t we become the meanest, ugliest people. I want to be able to look in the mirror and see the best version of myself and bring that out in you, too. We are in this together…You are the best version of you when you embrace being you, and when you embrace other’s uniqueness. When we do that, you will fly together.”
For Marine Corps wife, Maggie Sanchez, attending the event was informative on both an individual and family level, taking away information and resources that are available to her and her husband.
“The most beneficial part of the event was the financial awareness,” said Sanchez. “And knowing what’s available, like care and home insurance rates. Also learning about base jobs, and networking with other spouses were great.”
With her husband currently deployed with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines learning about Troopster, a care package company, was surprising and exciting for Sanchez.
A combination of the information she received from both the presenters and the collection of vendors that were available, and the interactive activities, Sanchez said attending MilSpouse Fest was worth it and would encourage other spouses to attend next year.
“I would tell them to grab a friend, and take the plunge,” said Sanchez. “There are over 75 women here going through the same thing you are, with the same questions.”
For Navy spouse Kayci Estes, attending MilSpouse Fest almost didn’t happen, but she’s glad it did.
“This wasn’t a sit and talk at you event,” said Estes. “It truly was interactive and a blast.”
Like Sanchez, Estes learned about different kinds of insurance and the coverage available including some that protects equipment taken on deployment with her spouse.
Other presenters included “More than a Spouse” by MJ Boice, staff writer for National Military Family Association.
Boice encouraged the spouses in attendance to utilize their talents and be an advocate for something they have a passion for.
Between presenters and sometimes even during, a cowbell would interrupt conversations and encourage cheering, signaling that another raffle prize was up for grabs.
Raffle prizes given out included child care gift certificates to local drop-in facilities, movies, teddy bears, a spa day, cash from USAA, gift cards to Starbucks and much more.