WIESBADEN, Germany - It's never easy arriving in a new place.
Finding one's way around, knowing where to go for assistance, having to learn about a different culture or language -- it can all seem overwhelming.
Thanks to Army Community Service's Spouse Sponsorship Program, there are people waiting to make the transition easier.
'We want people to become independent during their stay here,' said Maurice Walter, ACS' Spouse Sponsorship coordinator.
'ACS should always be your first stop upon arriving in Wiesbaden,' said Walter, explaining that as an information and referral agency, if ACS can't provide immediate assistance, the staff will quickly identify the right agency or organization that can help. Newcomers are also provided with a Welcome Packet, chockful of useful information and brochures.
'If they request a sponsor, we'll go through our list of volunteers and try to come up with the best fit for that individual as possible,' he said. 'Our goal is to pair up individuals by gender to make spouses feel comfortable. That way newcomers can have a friend to guide them through the community.'
The sponsorship process starts as early as when the Soldier or civilian employee receives his or her travel orders, said Gigi Wilson, Relocation Readiness Program manager, explaining that units or organizations send a sponsorship information form inquiring if the individual wants a spouse sponsor.
'More often than not Soldiers tend to overlook the value of having a sponsor for their spouses,' said Wilson, pointing out that ACS is making an effort to address and revive this Relocation Program service.
'Our promise is not only to train you to become a spouse sponsor, but to establish a long-term relationship between you (the spouse sponsor) and ACS in general. Our Spouse Sponsorship coordinator and the rest of the Relocation team will be there to provide you with the resources and knowledge you 'll need to assist your assigned newcomer spouse,' she said. 'We will work hard to match you with individuals with similar demographics such as age, marital status, number of children, hobbies and so on. Our goal is to pair up individuals to make them feel comfortable. That way newcomers can have something like a new-found friend to guide them through the community.'
Many newcomers eventually become volunteer sponsors themselves, Walter said, explaining that ACS provides training and tips for new sponsors.
'The Wiesbaden community is in dire need of spouse sponsors,' Wilson said. 'The PCS months are upon us, and we would like to fill our list of spouse sponsors to the brim so that each newly arrived spouse is welcomed properly -- our way of showing them that there's somebody on the other side waiting to say 'I've been there, done that. Here's what you should do' -- and to just be there for that spouse.'
Spouse Sponsorship training is offered by request or walk-in, said Wilson. It can be given to individuals or to units or organizations. 'We hold it at ACS every last Friday of the month from 10-11 a.m.'
Another way to become involved with the Spouse Sponsorship Program is through the Foreign Born Spouses Program. Relocation Readiness holds events and activities for foreign born spouses every second Wednesday of the month from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Volunteer Program Office in Building 7780, Texas Strasse 57, in Hainerberg Housing.
'This is a completely relaxed, informal group, and language is not an issue,' he said. 'It's a way for those who may feel far from home to meet individuals from their own culture and to be exposed to other cultures as well.'
'The Foreign-Born Spouses Program was created to recognize the many different cultures located throughout our community. We want to create an environment where foreign born spouses can come and meet others like themselves to talk about things that matter to them,' said Walter.
'We don't turn anyone away,' said Walter, adding that people interested in joining the monthly meetings are asked to touch base with ACS to help the staff prepare to meet their needs.
One of ACS' newest outreach programs is the Spouse Orientation Program. This is a monthly forum held every third Wednesday of the month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at ACS providing a way for all spouses to connect with representatives from Housing, Tricare, the Health Clinic, Transportation, Vehicle Registration, the Education Center and various other community organizations.
'It's a great opportunity for newcomers and individuals who have already been here for a while to pick up information and ask questions of the subject matter experts,' Walter said. 'There are so many great services available throughout the community that many people don't know about.'
ACS will provide free child care for spouses who want to attend but are unable to because they need child care. 'We encourage spouses to call one week in advance so that we can reserve a slot for them,' said Wilson.