Christina Etchberger, an Army spouse currently residing in South Korea, boy mom, entrepreneur, and freelance writer, was in the middle of her family’s second deployment during the pandemic when she felt the need for some changes in her life. Her attitude was struggling with the deployment, caring for her family, and being far from her support system. She realized that she needed to be a change agent. Christina wanted to be an uplifting advocate for the military and military spouses in particular. With this in mind, she created a lifestyle blog in June of 2020, It’s a Military Life (IML). She wanted to provide a voice and found she could do that through making her blog fun and empowering. She is now the Founder and CEO of It’s a Military Life Corporation.
Not long after starting her blog, Christina started the Veteran Pen Pal project. The Veteran Pen Pal project is IML’s biggest project. The project began during the pandemic, while countless veterans were in isolation at veteran centers, nursing facilities, and their own homes. Christina’s grandfather is a veteran and had to be apart from family due to the Covid-19 restrictions even though he was only there for temporary medical care. His wife and family were only minutes away, and still found ways to connect with him even though they couldn’t be in the same room. Letters, phone calls, and love were sent his way.
Christina reflected on how there are many veterans that do not have that kind of support system and are truly alone. In the past, she visited the veteran’s center quite often with her husband and son, to talk with the residents. She held a painting class with the military child club and attended special events. Now, none of that was possible for volunteers, veterans, and loved ones. Christina took it upon herself and called up the local veteran center and asked if they’d be interested in participating in a pen pal project. Incredibly, the director mentioned a veteran was just asking about receiving letters from a pen pal. She knew this was a need not only for this center, but for veterans across the nation. Since then, the program has grown tremendously with many centers and veterans involved and a phenomenal group of volunteer pen pals and ambassadors.
From here IML grew to include It’s a Military Child Life and their Cohort Immersion Program.
IML now has many professional volunteers, contributing writers, and is a nonprofit organization. The team has big goals to continue to grow their community. The professional volunteer team initially got its start when Christina sent out a request for a volunteer to assist her with administrative tasks for IML, which was not a nonprofit at the time. She received so many highly qualified military spouse and veteran applicants and Christina couldn’t turn away all these outstanding military community members. She instead saw this as a great way to provide hands-on experiences and professional development opportunities for military-affiliated professionals who needed a volunteer opportunity that supported a great cause and also helped build up their resume and expand their network in the process. This is what a professional volunteer is all about!
Volunteers are recruited by Christina through LinkedIn professional volunteer job posts, interviews are conducted through the HR team run by military spouses, and then they join the IML community! Everyone receives a title that reflects not only their credentials but their career aspirations. For example, if they have the education but not the job experience to be a business administrator, It’s a Military Connection will provide the training and projects to give them what prospective employers are looking for in regard to highly qualified candidates.
Christina and her team decided to transition IML into a nonprofit organization. The core values of IML are education and advocacy. Christina is an educator, and advocating for her students, families, and local community has always been a significant aspect of her personal and professional life. She knew after interviewing so many amazing people for the blog, as well as participating in some phenomenal causes, such as the Million Mile Project and Operation Holiday Salute, going on this path of serving others in this way was right for the organization. Her professional volunteers were the inspiration behind IML becoming an official nonprofit organization. They had a team of nonprofit development professional volunteers whose education was nonprofit development or simply had an interest in this career path. After a lot of research, team collaboration, and discussion, they came up with a plan to transition IML into a nonprofit organization. Together they agreed their mission embodied something that was more than selling a service or product but supporting a cause. Christina is truly grateful to that team of military spouses for believing in their mission to support the military community!
From there, Christina developed a cohort immersion program—It’s a Military Connection—that encompasses hands-on experiences, networking opportunities, professional development, and a voice for these outstanding participants over a ten-week period. Volunteers have all these resources to not only help them build up their resumes but have the opportunity to have a fulfilling role in the military community. It’s a Military Connection provides the training and projects to give them what prospective employers are looking for regarding highly-qualified candidates. Some examples of modules during the program are resume building, career and volunteer pathways, guest speakers, and a career fair. The Cohort is open for enrollment and is paid for on a donation basis.