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Home : News : News
NEWS | Feb. 28, 2014

Social Media helps unite Hearts Apart

By Airman Justine K. Rho 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Military members and their families understand the commitment and dedication that is asked of service members; service which occasionally requires deployments. That is why support groups, such as the Hearts Apart program, have such an impact on so many military families and their troops.

Through the use of blogs and social media sites, such as Facebook, the Hearts Apart support group has reached over 207,000 people, said the program leader, Master Sgt. Jose Ontiveros, 802nd Force Support Squadron Military Family Readiness and Support Center NCO. The social media sites not only promote base events, but also seek to inspire and positively uplift their followers.

The Hearts Apart program was created as an U.S. Air Force-wide deployment support group for families who are geographically separated from the their military member because of deployment or remote assignments.

Early in 2012 when Ontiveros came on board the Joint Base San Antonio Hearts Apart program, social media was reaching about 76 spouses, said Ontiveros. By the end of 2012, MFRC volunteers and program leaders had 15,581 individual contacts with those spouses. That number has expanded to 26,750 contacts and the program's audience has grown to more than 800 members Air Force wide.

The Hearts Apart team is using the network to get direct feedback from their members and tailor the events and programs to meet families' needs, said Ontiveros. Without social networking it would be impossible to know what our members are looking for, he said.

At JBSA-Lackland, Ontiveros has a team of 15 volunteers, made up of junior enlisted Airmen and NCOs, who correspond with the Hearts Apart members and work to make the program benefit as many families as possible. Without the efforts of the volunteer team, the amount of informative correspondence would be significantly lower.

"I reach out to (junior enlisted Airmen and NCOs) specifically because I want to show them the value of this program early on in their careers," said Ontiveros. "We currently have five spouses who are going through a deployment on our volunteer staff."

The MFRC team uses the insight they gain from social networking with the military family members and the personal connection the volunteers have to the program to develop specific Hearts Apart projects.

"People love free things and they want to feel supported; they want to feel connected," said Ontiveros. "That's what we've been able to accomplish. Our social media usage is a testament to that."

One of the projects developed through feedback is called JBSA for "Jelly Bean Start Amenities." The JBSA kits include basic items for taking care of a newborn baby. Correspondence with Hearts Apart members let volunteers know that expecting parents appreciate support during these exciting times.

Volunteers from the Lackland Enlisted Spouses Club come in once a week to build these bundles, said Ontiveros. The JBSA kits consist of 10 diapers, a toiletry kit and a personalized onesie that sports the Hearts Apart logo. Infants that are born while the military member is deployed will have shirts that say "I've been waiting my whole life to meet you."

The JBSA kits are not just free supplies, but instead become tailored bundles through thoughtful details. That attention to detail illustrates the care and supportive objectives of the program.

Another Hearts Apart project is Operation Sweet Dreams. The project asks volunteers to print photographs of deployed parents onto a pillowcase, so when children lay down on the pillow at night they can look at mom or dad. These simple, yet personalized projects reflect the sensitivity the Hearts Apart team has for their members.

The program is constantly evolving, said Ontiveros. There is no end goal to the Hearts Apart program, as long as families continue to use its services.

"Even though we don't sell a product, we do sell resiliency and a connection to the base, which is, ultimately what we are trying to do," said Ontiveros. "We are directly taking care of the families of the war fighters. Social media allows us to capture and show that what we're doing is worth the time invested."

For more information on the Hearts Apart program and upcoming events, please visit their Facebook page at Hearts Apart JBSA.