As the 2022 Wells Fargo Housing Insecurity DEPLOY Fellow, Kimberly has a lot to offer military families.
For starters, she understands military families. Her mother was the first Korean female Chief Warrant Officer 5 in the U.S. Army. Not to mention, Kimberly was accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy, and her husband is an active-duty Army soldier. But her voice is what makes her an even greater asset to the military community.
And it will prove to be powerful in her DEPLOY Fellow role. Housed under Blue Star Families' Campaign for Inclusion initiative, the DEPLOY (Diversify and Expand the Pipeline Of Leaders Of Your Military Community) Fellows Program serves to cultivate and nurture a group of ambitious future leaders with the resolve to change the visual landscape of Military and Veteran Service Organizations.
"I have seen firsthand from a young age how leadership in the military, in paid and volunteer positions, are not filled by BIPOC (Black and Indigenous people of color), the queer community, or women," Kimberly shares. "Our military community, like all our communities, should look like the people they serve. That's how we know we have a voice, that we are represented, and for that reason, I was OVERJOYED when I saw this position, and I KNEW it was for me."
For the next year, she'll work alongside eight other fellows in unique sections of service. Kimberly's focus, however, is the first of its kind for the program: housing insecurity in the military community.
Why Housing Insecurity?
The current cost of living has increased by numbers unseen since the 1980s. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, food costs have risen by 7.4% for urban consumers, gasoline by 40%, and electricity by 10.7% in the last year alone. For service members, who saw only a 2.7% pay increase in 2022, keeping up with costs is becoming more and more difficult for their families.
Before the inflation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many military families were already paying out-of-pocket for housing. With recent housing shortages and long on-installation waiting lists, it's no surprise this was a contributing factor for 25% of active-duty family member respondents to the 2021 Military Family Lifestyle Survey (MFLS) who indicated their financial situation caused them some or a great deal of stress.
Kimberly has navigated these issues herself. Her family relocated to the Colorado Springs area, which is known for its difficult housing market. And beyond the challenging process of obtaining a home as a military family, she's unfortunately familiar with other common financial stressors.
"I got married young, had a child young, and divorced young," Kimberly recalls. "I was a single parent for a long time before my current husband came along and showed me what love in action and a healthy relationship looked like. I've worked fast food, I've been a server for a major restaurant chain, I've been unhoused at one point, and I've been down to negative dollars. I've also finished that undergraduate program and graduate program. I have traveled the world, I have volunteered for organizations that gave me so much more than the time and talent I gave them. Our journeys are messy, but they are ours, and we are worth every bit of that messy journey. I want others to keep on fighting to be who they want to be-to be who they are."
"Our journeys are messy, but they are ours, and we are worth every bit of that messy journey."
Bridging the Divide
Already, Kimberly is jumping into the fray, assisting Blue Star Families with its first housing-focused pulse check poll and presenting as a guest on the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association's (AAFMAA) financial program during Blue Star Welcome Week 2022.
Uniquely, she hopes to incorporate and drive an understanding of the civilian community into the conversation. "Sometimes I feel like I may be siloed in my experience because it has been so heavily centered around the military and living overseas, and I feel very naive to the way the rest of the United States population lives and governs themselves," Kimberly says. "Being able to be immersed in a civilian population and gaining that cultural insight would allow me to be more culturally competent and better serve my communities and possibly be a bridge to the communities."
Both Veteran and active-duty respondents to the 2021 MFLS cited concerns around civilian understanding of military issues and the sacrifices they make. Kimberly's approach suggests there is an opportunity for work to be done on both sides of the invisible fence. She is also challenging those who aren't military affiliated to view life from the lens of a military community.
"Between deployments, separations, constant moves within the United States and out, and the general sense of no control of your life, it really takes a toll on us," Kimberly explains. "Think about this as you build policy and rules in general for military-affiliated consumers."
Blue Star Welcome Week, happening September 24th - October 2nd, 2022, is an excellent opportunity for military and civilian community members to come together. This nationwide campaign focuses on building a sense of belonging for military families AND helping their civilian neighbors better understand them. Blue Star Families' Chapters, volunteers, and partner organizations are hosting events across the nation to bring both groups together. This year, there will also be virtual offerings available where all are welcome. Learn more about the week's events at BlueStarWelcomeWeek.org.