Military Spouse Magazine

SEP 2018

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STORIES TO BE TOLD "I Will Wait" was my answer. I sat in nursing homes and talked to World War II spouses. I spoke with Viet- nam era spouses about what being married to the military meant during that hostile time in our history. I in- terviewed over 30 military spouses across generations and then wrote the play "I Will Wait" with a theatre colleague. We produced the show in my Indiana hometown in July 2015. We saw it heal some hearts and break some others. We saw it move people, military and civilian alike. We saw spouses emboldened at the thought of finally sharing their stories. We saw theatre doing what it does best: changing lives. But something was miss- ing. These were my people and as I watched them leave the theatre, impacted and needing a safe space to share; I knew that we needed to offer something more. I just didn't know what that meant. However, the orders came and the move happened. There I was, watching our life go into wooden crates and loaded into trucks to be shipped to Alaska, and all I could do was cry. My play, sharing it with others would have to wait…again. The play had healed me; it had given a voice and platform for some to share their stories and that would just have to be enough for now. Because Uncle Sam calls and we go. It's our job to find a way to reconcile our feelings with this lifestyle. So I did. I tucked that dream back into my heart, bought a new pair of snow boots and marched on. THE PLOT TWIST Eight weeks later, my new neigh- bor, Wendy Caldwell, stood at the end of our driveways and we started the process of military friend speed dating. Where are you coming from? Where are you actu- ally from? How old are your kids? Will you be my emergency contact for school? In that conversation, I shared that I was a playwright and an actor. She shared that she was an artist, national certified coun- selor, and a mental health therapist trained in expressive arts. And just like that, it all came together. Did she want to put together a reading of my play coupled with a mini expressive arts workshop for spouses? She did. We found out that our brigade would be deploy- ing to Afghanistan for the first time in five years and suddenly, the play and workshop seemed incredibly relevant. We did an evening reading and workshop and when it ended, people immediately wanted to know when the next one was taking place. We performed more readings and offered more workshops. People kept coming. We walked around the corner (literally!!) in our neighborhood and found our managing direc- tor, Lea Johnson, who has spent years running businesses and nonprofits herself. We walked further down the street and found Angela Caruso, a marketing guru who was taking time off from her career to raise two little boys. Finally, we found Kristie Rigdon who is a financial advisor with First Command, military spouse, and now volunteers as our treasurer. A SPARK . A TRIBE . A NEW FUTURE We formed our nonprofit, The Veteran's Spouse Project (VSP) weeks later and hit the ground running. VSP is a military spouse-led non- profit organization made up of "I Will Wait," a touring performance art piece, and Made for You, an accompanying expressive arts work- shop. VSP works to give voice to the experiences of military spouses across the generations using music, drama, dance, and expressive arts. VSP exists to help bridge the civilian and military gaps within our communities by deepening the understanding of what military families endure through deployment. These are the stories of your families, friends, and neighbors. For everyone gone, someone waits. The future that I needed was all there… in ALASKA, waiting for me. An incredible tribe of military spouses, who are often overlooked and undervalued within our communities, came together in a huge way. We produced our first weekend of VSP in Anchorage, Alaska in May with a highly regarded showing of "I Will Wait" and Made for You, our expressive arts workshop for 25 veterans' spouses. We are now sharing about the project with U.S. senators, talking with the National Endow- ment for the Arts about future funding with plans to produce VSP in Colorado, Georgia and Washington, D.C., over the next 18 months. Military spouses are the most diverse, resilient, brave people in the world; after opening myself up to that, the enrichment of my own business and my own life feels almost unstoppable. Get Involved! Want to connect, share your story, become part of the team or have VSP visit your area? Connect with VSP: @iwillwaitvsp W Photo by Karen Simmons SEPTEMBER 2018 / MILITARYSPOUSE.COM 11

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