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In Service

While they may wear the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps, there is one often-used phrase which defines them even more than soldier, sailor, airmen or Marine. That phrase is “service member.” These men and women give their lives in service to the nation.

And behind these men and women are family members who also seek to give back. At Fort Gordon, there is an organization made up of spouses, family members, military retirees and civilians who make this spirit of giving a high priority.

The Fort Gordon Spouses and Civilians Club has about 100 members who work to improve the quality of life of service members as well as help the surrounding community. “It’s a way of life for us,” says Gail Fitzpatrick, the club’s second vice president and wife of an Army retiree.

“It’s always natural for us to be helping out.”

Thrift Shop and Flea Markets

Located in the Brems Barracks area of Fort Gordon are three buildings which comprise the Fort Gordon Thrift Shop. Open to the general public from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Thursdays and from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first Saturday of each month from October to May, the thrift shop has a variety of items from furniture and clothing to jewelry and toys.   

“Our consignors travel the world and we get things from Poland, Korea, Germany. One of our volunteers brought in some of her Hummels. We have a lot of Polish pottery,” says Debbie Windhorn, thrift store manager.

Only Department of Defense ID card holders can consign items, but anyone can purchase items. Anyone not affiliated with Fort Gordon can enter Gate 1 on Gordon Highway with a valid drivers’ license, car registration and proof of insurance.

Fitzpatrick says people should definitely get the idea of sub-quality merchandise out of their heads when it comes to the thrift shop. Military families have to purge their closets frequently. “Military families have to move and, when they are packing, they realize ‘I’m over the weight limit,’ so they have to get rid of things,” she says.

While there are some consignments, the thrift shop also accepts donations.

The club also receives proceeds from two seasonal flea markets on Fort Gordon’s Barton Field. The annual fall flea market is held in October and typically coincides with the Oktoberfest celebration. The annual spring flea market is in May. Club members provide volunteer manpower during the event.

Scholarships and Grants

Proceeds from the thrift shop and flea market are distributed in the forms of college scholarships and grants. Last May, the club gave more than $23,000 in college scholarships and welfare and service grants. Grants are available to area non-profit agencies. “It’s based on need and we do give more favor to military-related organizations,” says Debbie Franco, grants and services chairwoman.

Military-related grant recipients in 2011 included Fort Gordon Christmas House, Fort Gordon Fisher House, the Youth Challenge Academy and the Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home. Other grants went to entities outside the installation gates. Those organizations included the Augusta Rescue Mission, Junior Achievement, Child Enrichment Inc., the Golden Harvest Food Bank, Safe Homes of Augusta and the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Augusta.

Applications for 2012 grants will be taken through March 1, and they are available at the club’s Web site

Nine high school seniors received scholarships in 2011. Scholarships are open to dependents of club members and dependents of active duty military. Applications are available on the Web site.

The organization will award “merit scholarships for graduating seniors to assist them in their first year of education at an accredited university, college or vocational/technical school. Scholarships will also be awarded to adults continuing their education,” according to the Web site.

Other Volunteer Activities

Club members aren’t just involved with the Fort Gordon Spouses and Civilians Club. Many of the club members are involved in a variety of other service organizations at Fort Gordon.

For more than 40 years, Christmas House has provided toys and food for military families in need at the holidays. “About 90 percent of the work done with Christmas House is by club members,” says Fitzpatrick. “Everything we do is to improve the quality of life for Army families.” Nearly 400 families received assistance through this year’s Christmas House, she says.

Susie Waldeman, who is the club president, has served as a long-time volunteer for the Fisher House on Fort Gordon. The club reaches out to the Fisher House, which is a home away from home for military families with a loved one receiving treatment at a local hospital. The club sponsors the Thanksgiving meal for Fisher House families.

The Social Side

It’s not all hard work for Fort Gordon Spouses and Civilians Club members. There is a social side to this group. Each month, there are different events planned. In December, there was a Holiday Make, Bake and Take event tied with a silent auction. A thrift store fashion show is scheduled for February and a tour of homes is in the planning stages.

There’s a Lunch Bunch that also meets to sample new restaurants each month as well as a quilting group and a breakfast club. Members also bowl and golf together. 

About the Club

The club has its roots in the Officers Wives Clubs and Enlisted Wives Club. Over the years, the club has made several changes including undergoing name changes, but its missions have remained the same.

For example, the word “wives” was dropped and “spouses” adopted because there are men who also participate in some club events, says Fitzpatrick.

Membership in the Fort Gordon Spouses and Civilians Club organization is voluntary and open to all persons affiliated with Fort Gordon, including military ID card holders both active duty and retired and U.S. government civilian ID holders and the families of all of these groups. Members can be affiliated with other branches, not just the Army.  Members must be at least 18 years old to join. Annual dues are $15.

Charmain Z. Brackett is an Augusta freelance writer and mother of three.

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