Meeting Flo Bringas made me feel as if I had won the lottery or hit a jackpot. She is high-spirited, energy-filled, passionate and inspirational about her craft. Bringas moved to Indiana about 18 years ago from Park Ridge, Illinois. She is currently attending Indiana University Northwest ("IUN") earning a second degree in nursing. Impressive, yes, but there is more. In April of 2014, Bringas and three others received honors from the IU Northwest Philanthropy Council for their leadership in Northwest Indiana.
Bringas is a FRG (I asked myself the same question). FRG is the acronym for Family Readiness Group Coordinator. Although she primarily works with Army Brigade 909, she also works with multiple units in all branches of the armed forces.
FRGs are responsible for taking care of military families before, during and after deployment. She sees herself as a "team mommy," appointed to help others.
Pride and emotion bursts from Bringas as she talks about her work. When I visited, she invited me into a very large area in her home that is constructed in a user-friendly setting. The only wall that exists is the entrance wall that connects the living, dining and kitchen areas. It is a very tastefully decorated area that looks as if you could accommodate a couple hundred people. The area is designed for visibility. Bringas hosts several fund-raising events and get-togethers. She said she wanted everyone to be able to get a good visual of others as they talked. The area where I chose to sit was a large circular glass atrium with lots of green plants.
We were joined by long time friend, Melinda Rayter, who is a nurse anesthetist working at a local hospital. Melinda shared how it was Bringas that cared for her aunt while she was serving in a tour of duty overseas. There was no one to care for her ailing Aunt. Bringas visited, spent nights at the hospital, arranged for hospice and handled the funeral arrangements, even securing the pallbearers.
There was a great deal of excitement amongst us as we talked about Bringas's role as readiness coordinator. Melinda said that Bringas is the go to when soldiers cannot connect with their family.
"When you are away and there are things that are going on at home, you need someone to be there for you. Bringas is that person. You have to stay focused on your job. The worst thing to happen to a person in the military is for them to get distracted. It is a stressful being away and not being able to handle things," Melinda explained.
Bringas works with Before Yellow Ribbons. Her role is to help prepare with pre-deployment resources from finances, legal matters, babysitting, providing support and networking. Recently a commander from Afghanistan contacted Bringas to let her know about a family that needed assistance. There was the call during Thanksgiving that 5 families needed help. Bringas arranged for them to get the basic essentials - dinner items, toys for the children, clothing, shoes, school supplies and more. Bringas is the go to person for all resources for military families, whether its help for a foreclosed home, car payment problem or I just need someone to talk to someone. She says if she is unable to solve the problem herself, she will make the connection to someone who can.
Another thing that Bringas is very passionate about is her service as a member of the Indiana Patriot Guard. She has been a member for over four years. The organization is made up of veterans and citizen who volunteer their time to get together as escorts for returning soldiers and those who have been KIA ("Killed in Action"). As she talked about the KIAs, Bringas became emotional. She said there is nothing like being on the tarmac to participate in the ceremony to receive the remains. She has several pictures of the ceremonies that exhibit the formations and a bracelet that contains the names of the soldiers she has welcomed home. Bringas is a member of both the Illinois and Indiana Patriot Guard. She said her mission is to let everyone know about participating in the Guard because she feels deeply that we have to do and show more appreciation to those who make a real sacrifice to serve in the military.
"It means a lot to the families to do the littlest thing for them," Bringas said.
There is a lot of work and effort put into assisting families. She worked with the American Legion in Highland to do a fundraiser for homeless Vets during Thanksgiving; she assisted the Valparaiso VFW with providing Thanksgiving dinner for 350 people. The VFW provided the turkeys and she provided seven trays of food that she cooked and prepared herself.
Bringas began working in the community years ago. At one point she was a foster mother, she worked with after-school programs, domestic violence and other needs within the community, but that all changed after the death of Jeanette Winters. (Sgt. Jeanette Winters, of Gary, Indiana, was the first female killed in the Afghanistan conflict.) Bringas said that when she heard the news she became very emotional and wanted to do something for the family. She was there to greet the plane and attended the funeral at the Genesis Convention Center in Gary. Afterwards, she became very close to the family. It was the overwhelming emotion and seeing people compelled to be part of this event that inspired her to want to do more on an individual level.
At the outset I mentioned that Bringas is attending IUN to receive her second nursing degree. She is in the advanced program. Ultimately she wants to provide a program to help soldiers with PTSD ("post-traumatic stress disorder").
"There is a lot to learn: the solider has to learn how to reintegrate back into the family and the family has to learn how to handle the problems associated with PTSD. There has to be some sort of program that aggressively works to help learn how to cope with the loss of a limb and how to get everyone to work toward making a successful transition," Bringas said.
Bringas's home is built on 10 acres of land. She converted a portion into a victory garden and has worked with children, teaching them everything from tilling the land to harvesting, picking and selling their produce. The children donate or reinvest their money to help others. Bringas also worked with Cigars for Warriors, raising over $3,000 to send cigars to soldiers and has many other successful projects.
She said, "It's not about me. I am not there for the pat on the back or the grandiosity. If you are the best-kept secret, you are failing everyone out there. It is a tunnel down effect in a triangular pyramid...I am the best tool. Sure you can write a check, but the greatest reward after you have written the check, is to volunteer and see what it feels like to get a hug from someone who has no food or no place to live. 'Greatness is a lot of things done well and consistently.'"