FREE VITA TAX PREP ON BASE

Yep, you heard that right!

At this very moment there are uniformed warrior-gods not only ready to engage the enemy, but prepare your taxes (which can be quite the battle too).

Many U.S. military installations across our great nation and around the world are collaborating with the IRS to offer free, in-person tax preparation services for active duty members, retirees and dependents. Through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or VITA, our active duty and their families have one less thing to worry about in a lifestyle that can often times be filled with uncertainty.

According to Army Lt. Col. David Dulaney, the Executive Director of the Armed Forces Tax Council, “Taxes for military members are complicated, noting frequent moves, deployments and the fact that tax laws change every year. The VITA preparers receive extensive training through the Defense Department and the IRS on the situations faced in the military community, such as combat zone tax benefits, extensions to file and pay, and special rules for the earned income tax credit.”

Have I had my taxes prepared by VITA? You bet your sweet return I have! (Full disclosure: a few years back I went to the dark side and had my taxes prepared by a national chain. In fact, I paid the fees to have 4 years of VITA returns checked. Not a single mistake was found. Very impressive to say the least.)

Gather your tax information for the past year (and an up-to-date power of attorney if your spouse is deployed) and head on over to your local VITA offices. Make sure to bring along your bank information that include routing numbers, as well as original social security cards of all dependent family members.

You will find professional, uniformed personnel under the guidance of an expert overseer that are able to file both federal and state returns. The entire process is free, all you have to do is make that appointment!

The deadline to file this year is April 17 with military members serving outside the United States receiving an automatic two-month extension.

VITA is a wonderful way our country gives back to our service members and their families who sacrifice so much.

So get going!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Welcome Home Commitment

The year: 2005

The place: El Centro, California

The temperature: a balmy 115 degrees

If you have never heard of El Centro, think the desert scene in Star Wars, Return of the Jedi (it was filmed there) – and we’re talking surface-of-the-sun hot. We were on the tail end of our 5th cross-country Permanent Change of Station (PCS) from Virginia to California with our (then) 5 children and one dog. A proper Saharan caravan on its last leg.

It was then that our minivan tires began to give. I remember looking behind from the front-seat of our car with concern, and seeing five red-faced children staring nervously back. They were dripping with sweat in our vehicle-turned-sauna. Our panting dog sat atop a stack of suitcases, like some busted-up driveway lion, guarding nothing in particular. We had turned off the air conditioner, as it was serving no purpose other than raising our engine temperature. Outside, it was simply too hot, and the system could not keep up.

But suddenly, on the horizon – an oasis! Wait a minute…is it a mirage? No! A Walmart Super Center!

To us wayward travelers, it was as if we had stumbled upon the Fountain of Youth. We limped into the auto bay, handed over the keys and apologized to the mechanic for the yet-to-be identified smell of the interior. I considered pulling the food off the dash board and then thought hmmm – warm lunch for later. I walked away not caring if I ever got back into the van again.

As I watched my children frolicking in the freezer section, I pondered our current situation. We had prepared for the move and traveled so far only to be caught off guard. Again. We were stuck in the moment, with a most unlikely sanctuary suddenly appearing.

For many Veterans, transition may be like a desert experience. After years of forward progress, professional success and reliable constants, they come to a sudden stop where there appears to be no help in sight.  An abrupt halt they thought they were prepared for but perhaps were not.

Our military and their families acknowledge there are certain constants in this lifestyle of choice. We know a deployment is always in our near future, as well as moves, multiple school changes for our children, and an ‘interesting’ housing choice at each station. Let’s not forget the most important constant of all: separation and retirement. You might be Captain America right now, but at some point, the military is going to break up with you. It is a reality.

While meeting sudden, emergency needs like ours in 2005, Walmart also recognizes the long-lasting constants. They recognize that life can get hard, and they recognize the connection between their company and Veteran hiring needs.

In 2013 the Veterans Welcome Home Commitment was started in an effort to identify and hire Veterans. Leaving the military can be one of the most difficult transitions a Veteran will face, and Walmart guarantees a job for all eligible, honorably discharged U.S. Veterans separated from active duty since Memorial Day of 2013. The company has a goal of hiring 250,000 Veterans by the end of 2020 and have already reached over 75% of that goal.

According to the Department of Defense, more than 1,300 new Veterans and their family members return to civilian life every day. 1,300! The transition from active duty to civilian life can be difficult at times, and for some, debilitating. Walmart is attempting to bridge the gap understanding the elite nature and capabilities of our Veterans and their spouses. They recognize the honorably discharged Veteran is a highly-trained, expertly skilled leader with a desire to achieve, long after separation from the military.  The company has recognized the need and recently announced that it has hired more than 194,000 Veterans and promoted more than 28,000 to positions of greater responsibility nationwide since 2013.

But wait…there’s more…Walmart is not done yet.

In a first-of-its-kind event, Walmart co-sponsored Veteran EDGE, a three-day conference and training summit dedicated to Veteran-owned businesses.  The corporation is passionate in their desire to assist Veterans and their spouses in search of meaningful careers not just through their hiring programs but also through entrepreneurial efforts. An all-in for Veterans not simply to find them a job but to assist them throughout their entire career journey.

Through a partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, Veteran EDGE was held February 16-18 in Austin, Texas.  The conference targeted Veteran and military spouse small business owners from across the country by providing opportunities for networking and the sharing of business ideas.

More than 5 million Americans are employed by the more than 2.5 million Veteran owned businesses in the U.S. generating more than 1.1 trillion in sales annually. Needless to say, Veteran owned businesses play a vital role in our nation’s economy.

And I should point out that fewer than 1% of our country’s citizens currently serve in the armed forces.

For Veterans and their families, transition can be a very unstable and constantly shifting environment. But, Walmart recognizes the value in supporting and hiring this superior group as employees and potential leaders of their corporation. And just as they worked to get us back on the road to our new duty station, so Walmart works to get our Veterans on their way to a bright future.

Consider the Veterans Welcome Home Commitment an anchor and a new constant in your time of transition.

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

To learn more about Walmart’s Veterans Welcome Home Commitment and overall support to veterans, service members and their families, visit www.walmartcareerwithamission.com

To learn more about the first-of-its-kind Veteran EDGE event, visit https://ivmf.syracuse.edu/veteranedge/

15 Minutes Early is On Time, 5 Minutes Early is Late… Oh, and Your Blouse is Completely Unbuttoned

Punctuality is a sign of respect.

When we are late to a ceremony, celebration or meeting, we are telling the host or hostess, “What I was doing was more important than what you had planned.”

As military spouses, we are constantly creating teams. We have teams of volunteers, teams for family readiness, teams for social events, teams for training and teams to train future leaders.  If you choose to volunteer or are chosen to be on a team, punctuality will be crucial to the overall mission success and your opportunity for future advancement.

For years I was chronically late. It was my modus operandi.  I actually had friends and family provide alternate arrival times for me (a polite way of saying they lied) but who could blame them? I deserved what I earned. I lament my former lack of professionalism and through many years of self-analysis and soul searching, I was able to pinpoint the source of my problem:

Babies.

Babies – the usurpers of time, body, soul and all that is sane.  Little individuals that  are so cute we actually strap them to our bodies.

We parents as, wannabe professionals, are blindsided by that sweet smile and the smell of cotton candy and diapers. They are mesmerizing indeed – but the killer of all that is professional (at least for me).

The turning point for my perpetual tardiness was one of the first times I volunteered for the unit family readiness team. I had three children, the youngest being around 9 months and still nursing. As nursing mommies often do, I planned on feeding my son at the very last minute before departure. I was in my best suit with my briefcase in the car and the babysitter in the house. I finished feeding the baby and arrived to the meeting right at 11:00 am as planned. I barreled into the conference room and in the immortal words of Britney Spears “all eyes on me.” The room was set up so that the entire group was facing the entry door and they actually started right at 11:00 am. How dare they! Where was the coffee, socializing and introductions? As I entered I heard ladies gasp and witnessed uniformed warriors casting their eyes downward. A fellow volunteer gave me that kind of acknowledgment one might receive when lipstick is on the teeth. I wish it had just been lipstick. While still standing at the entry to the conference room, I looked down and saw that my suit top was completely unbuttoned and revealing my awesome, filthy, nursing bra. The one my husband says looks like a chimney sweep wore it while cleaning out the flue.  In my rush to feed the baby and leave, I had forgotten to button up my blouse.

Nice.

I suppose if this had been the first time something like this had happened I would be mortified. But it was not and I was not. I quickly exited, buttoned up my blouse and returned with an indignant look of what on my face.

If you are reading this screaming YES – then allow me to offer a few tips.

Create a mindset within yourself that you will always be on time. Being late is not an option. There will always be traffic, babies, accidents, breakdowns and vomit. Adjust accordingly and make it happen.  The day before an event, prepare your clothes and place all bags, files, papers and supplies in your vehicle. Arrive to events 45 minutes early and while sitting in your car, catch up on email, phone calls and your instagram. Sit in the host’s driveway and ring the bell exactly at the stroke of arrival time quoted on the invite. Your host will love it and be so very impressed.

Within the realm of military life, punctuality is not to be taken lightly. Rise to the occasion, don’t make excuses. Be professional and enjoy yourself!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Pop-Up Shop!

I love military spouses.

I love how they persevere through moves. I love how they laugh in the face of job losses. I love how they can take deployments and major life changes with grace and poise, keeping it together for their family and their nation.

But one type of spouse that I love most (and who never ceases to amaze me) is the entrepreneur. You know – the self-starter! The one who creates or manages a booming home industry, even while stationed half-way around the world! Amazing!

Some spouses like this are working for a little extra pocket money, some just want to supplement their retail therapy and many just want to increase the family income (and actually end up making more than the active duty spouse!).

I personally have never started a business, or been part of an in-home sales company, but boy do I support them. I have offered my house as a party venue, and have attended nearly every one I received an invite to. I have such respect for those of you willing to get up in front of customers (who are also usually your peers) and engage them in your product.

A few years back, I was living on an installation with an inordinate amount of consultants in housing. There was a salesperson on every corner! Whatever you wanted, it was right there!

 Also down the street I had a dear friend that was very involved in fundraising efforts for wounded active duty. One day she mentioned she was trying to organize a new fundraising event, but couldn’t quite come up with a theme. Well, two heads are better than one, so we sat down and brainstormed. It was then that we came up with an in-home pop-up shop idea! We felt this would be a great opportunity to support military spouses who were making the effort to better themselves and at the same time, support our wounded war heroes!

You have probably been to one on base and heard them referred to as a ‘vendor blender.’ The clubs, base gyms, or other large facilities open up for vendors to sell their goods. We copied the same concept but decided to hold it in my home!

We privately invited fifteen consultants of various products to participate in our fundraising event. However, in order to participate, the vendor would need to donate a certain amount of proceeds to our military charity. Now you might be wondering, what is the benefit to the vendor? Why would they want to come, just to give money away? Good questions!

When asking a favor like this of vendors, I kept in mind that they were looking for how this would  benefit them too. Though my vendors were lovely, wonderful people, when it came to their merchandise – they were all about the business.

But how can a vendor generate business without new clients? That there was our selling point!

By putting together an environment with multiple pop-up shops, we could draw a crowd with many different tastes and preferences. This would provide immediate access to new clients for all the vendors! Many attendees had never heard of certain merchandise, and how wonderful for the vendor that they were right there with their product, ready to sell!

Boom. The vendor sign-up was full.

The next step was promoting our event. Approximately one month out from the fundraiser we started a social media blitz – utilizing neighborhood Facebook pages, email, and even old-school fliers. We had nearly 500 ‘looks’ on our Facebook event, and then the RSVPs starting coming in. That’s a pretty substantial amount for base housing!

A week before the event each consultant came to my home to choose where she would set up her stock and get the lay of the house. Some measured out their spaces and photographed the area they would be in. (It’s vitally important you meet the needs of your vendors in a situation like this. Remember – their business may be their livelihood, or a significant part of it!)

We planned on an all-day event from 9 am to 3 pm, with set-up the night before. The event was scheduled for a weekday, knowing kids would be in school and Moms would be free to shop (but we still welcomed children and home schooled friends as well).

We wanted our guests to have the full experience, so I created a breakfast buffet menu consisting of bagels, assorted cheeses, pastries and fresh fruit.  In the kitchen I arranged a self-serve coffee station, along with juices and tea. Breakfast service was from 9 am to 11 am.

I then created a light lunch menu consisting of cold meats, French bread, and assorted salads. Lunch service was from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm. After lunch I pulled all the remaining food and continued to serve beverages, both cold and hot.

When entertaining, it is critical that you prep as much as you can in advance. I displayed and tightly wrapped all non-perishables the night before. The bagels, the French breads and the butter can all be placed on your buffet the evening prior to your event. Also the meat and cheese trays I prepped the morning before, tightly sealing and storing them in my refrigerator.

The day prior, we moved almost every stick of furniture from all public spaces of the house. But it didn’t leave the house! The garage, the bedrooms, outback – all places to store furniture!

As soon as we were done, the consultants arrived (at an agreed upon time) and set up their stations. It was really fantastic to see the entire lower-level of my home filled with goods.

 The day of the event, the vendors arrived early and were ready to go as the doors opened at 9 am sharp. As guests arrived, they were greeted outside by a mimosa bar under decorative umbrellas and then invited in to begin shopping.

The Base Pop-Up Shop was a great success! The attendance was fantastic! Polite conversation flowed throughout the morning as bargain hunters scored some great deals. But most importantly, the goal of a very generous donation made to our wounded warriors was achieved, and vendors walked away with profits and connections!

So what’s the main point of all this?

It’s to encourage you to always take your events to the next level. Think creatively and use your know-how to recreate and reinvent the traditions we so enjoy. Not to mention, it is so very important that we support one another, whether in business or friendship, as we navigate this thing called military life!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie