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National military families group opens Tampa chapter

Blue Star Families, through funding from CSX, created a new chapter in Tampa catering to the local community's needs.

A new local resource for military families, veterans and service members is launching this week as the first Tampa chapter of the national nonprofit, Blue Star Families.

Created in 2009, the nonprofit runs programs and events catering to the country’s military population, driven by research it conducts in the form of an annual survey, said Meghan Wieten-Scott, senior manager of outreach and national events for the group.

One of the key goals is helping to resolve feelings of isolation among military families and veterans adjusting to their civilian communities.

“It can be difficult to feel a sense of community and belonging when you’re moving every two to three years, sometimes more,” Wieten-Scott said.

In its 2019 survey, the nonprofit found that 40 percent of active duty military families felt they do not have a sense of belonging in their local civilian community.

In Tampa, about 1,650 existing members of the nonprofit can now turn to Courtney Bilyeu as their local chapter director. In this role, Bilyeu serves as a go-to for resources, an event planner and a conduit for influencing local policy, Wieten-Scott said.

The Tampa chapter is one of six across the country created through funding from the Jacksonville-based rail freight transportation company, CSX, said Bryan Tucker, vice president of the company’s corporate communication.

Blue Star Families is one of the organizations that CSX invests in as part of its program to serve military and first-responder communities, Tucker added.

The Tampa chapter launch event initially was planned for April in person, but Bilyeu had to set everything up virtually instead.

“It’s a difficult position to be in, because it’s hard to reach out, and I’m trying to be as active as I can through our Facebook,” she said. “I always reply, just trying to get sort of your finger on the pulse of what families need right now.”

Local members of the nonprofit’s network have been able to enjoy national programming such as book giveaways and free museum admissions, but Bilyeu’s presence will help centralize services, she said.

This week, the nonprofit has been sending out information on the chapter’s launch, which ends with a drive-thru “dinner on us” event at American Legion Post 138, where local military families can pick-up a package that includes a $50 Domino’s Pizza gift card, a board game and a book.

Moving forward, Bilyeu said she is working to give out donated Google Chromebooks and determining how to best serve this diverse military community, which includes several military retirees.

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