Patsy Piggott, Army Emergency Relief specialist, works with a client

Army Emergency Relief specialist Patsy Piggott provides information to a client Tuesday at the Army Community Service facility (building 9023) on Mahone Avenue.  ACS, the Army social services arm, comprises a number of human services and programs designed to support military and family members.

It’s safe to say, the pandemic has created a future filled with uncertainty; however, Team Lee members can take comfort in knowing they don’t have to navigate it alone.

That reassurance is courtesy of Army Community Service, the 55-year-old agency that continues to provide a variety of support programs ranging from advocacy for victims experiencing violence, child abuse or neglect to educational programs that help individuals and families build and manage their finances.

Stephanie B. Parker, the Fort Lee ACS division chief, offered details about the “myriad of services” provided under her facility’s 10 focus areas. They include the Exceptional Family Member Program, which provides assistance for special needs individuals in the community; Army Emergency Relief, offering financial help for challenging life events; and the New Parent Support Program, a resource providing helping hands for expectant and new moms and dads.  

Over the past nine months, Parker said the demand for ACS services has steadily increased and grown more critical due to COVID-19.

“The pandemic did not negatively impact us but rather elevated what we do,” she said. “I looked at the numbers from the beginning of fiscal 2020 to today, and our support and outreach efforts have increased roughly 30 percent.”

The increased demand for services was sudden, requiring a quick response, Parker further noted.

“It was a little shocking because we had to get people up-to-speed on technology,” she said, noting a rapidly changing and uncertain support environment.

Implementing a telework schedule as a preventative measure to keep staff and community members safe was one such response. Additionally, ACS personnel wrestled with new software programs designed to keep them connected with existing clients, then implemented a plan to ensure future clients could access their services.

“Our means of access reflect our demographics,” Parker said. “We have a generation here that likes to ‘click and send.’ They don’t like coming into a brick-and-mortar structure in the traditional sense. Their programs of instruction don’t allow them much time to get away from classes, and they have very limited time they can take for appointments, family life, etc.”

Community members are able to access ACS information via Facebook, mobile app and webpage in addition to telephone. The facility also has teleconferencing capability.

 In the midst of making adjustments in response to the pandemic, Parker said she figuratively held her breath because there were factors present that could increase the likelihood of domestic issues. 

“I was very nervous (as the pandemic unfolded),” she said. “I was looking for ‘popups’ of the number of domestic violence cases because we have families with schoolchildren at home who are learning virtually and family members generally spending more time with each other.”

 As a result, stressors were coming from all corners. Families were compelled to purchase supplies and equipment to accommodate virtual learning and they were making extra trips to the grocery to feed family members not normally at home during the day. Furthermore, spouses were experiencing job loss or cuts in work hours resulting in problems with rents and mortgages, she said.

Although the pandemic has brought about plenty of new challenges, military member financial issues are something ACS tackles on a regular basis. Aside from those, Parker said the community has fared extraordinarily well during the pandemic.

“This community has been resilient,” she said. “I’ve reviewed our numbers and reports, and they have not changed from pre-pandemic until now. We have seen no upticks in cases of neglect or domestic violence.”

 That does not mean financial and pandemic-related stressors should go unaddressed. Parker said personnel from her Family Advocacy Program have covered much ground in helping community members cope.

“Our FAP specialists have been hitting the roads at Fort Lee conducting briefings on stress management and addressing questions like, ‘What does a healthy relationship look like?’” she said. “We have service members not only having financial hardship on their own, but there are family members pulling on them and asking for additional help. They’re also asking for emotional support. So, what does that look like for a service member as far as having healthy boundaries? How do you determine not to help the person who loved and raised you now that you’re an adult on your own? So, we’re having to provide that support and education to those finding themselves in these situations.”

ACS offers a wide range of services to support military and family members.  In addition to the aforementioned, they include Empowerment Program Services/Victim Advocate; Financial Readiness Program; and Survivor Outreach Services.

Access to services are currently through appointment only, however, program managers can visit units and conduct training on site as long as they practice COVID-19 protocols, according to Parker.

Units, organizations, service members or family members in need of ACS programs and services may call 804-734-6381 or email kimberly.l.evans8.civ@mail.mil.

As an option, military and family members without appointments can initiate a request for support by visiting with an ACS specialist at the Family Resource Annex located on the north end of ACS headquarters in building 9023, Mahone Avenue. The building’s main entrance is reserved for personnel and clients with existing appointments for FAP, AER, financial education, EFMP, NPSP and SOS.