REALTOR® Comforts Children of Deployed Military Members

Connecticut real estate pro Maria Phillips provides care packages, educational opportunities and scholarships to kids whose parents are deployed overseas.

This holiday season, Maria Phillips prepared over 4,000 care packages for children of active military members. The care packages are designed to help kids feel a sense of connection and support while their parents are deployed overseas.

“Military families, especially children, are brushed under the rug,” says Phillips, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Madison, Conn. “They deal with psychological issues, stress and anxiety. Sometimes, their parents come home wounded or with a brain injury—and sometimes, they don’t come home at all.”

Service members and their spouses, who are usually living on a military base in the U.S., can sign up for a care package through the initiative that Phillips heads called Kids of America’s Heroes (KOAH), a Fiscally Sponsored Program of United Charitable, which is a registered 501(c)(3). It’s one of three services Phillips offers through KOAH, which also supports children of National Guard members. KOAH also provides education to the community about the unique needs of military children and scholarships to high school seniors who enroll in military service.

Phillips, the daughter of a WWII veteran who was a navigator on B-17, the Flying Fortress, says she wishes she had that kind of support as a young girl. Her father came home from the war in 1945, experiencing migraines and night terrors. Phillips’ mother called his condition “shell shock,” a colloquial term for post-traumatic stress disorder used before the affliction was formally recognized in 1980.

“He was a dentist and a philanthropist. But before that, he was a 19-year-old fighting a war, and the effects lasted the duration of his life,” Phillips says. She and her siblings were unknowingly witnessing the hardships and pain of untreated PTSD, which led Phillips to various volunteering efforts that supported military families. It was in 2015, when she started doing some research, that she realized it was the families of active-duty military that needed support.

“The families face stigma because of the mental health trials they go through,” Phillips says. “If children act out in school because one of their parents has been deployed or injured, school officials don’t know how to deal with that.”

When Phillips received money from a life insurance policy after her parents died, she decided to do what she could to provide the missing support to military families. In 2016, Phillips worked with Congress on legislation to ensure that military children were identified in schools so administrators and teachers could give them extra support. The Military Student Identifier was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama. School enrollment paperwork started including a checkbox indicating whether their child has an active-duty military parent.

In 2019, Phillips formed a partnership with the American Red Cross and initiated the Fierce Family Workshops, which ran a program called “Roger That: Communication Counts.” Military families who participated in the workshops were provided training on identifying and communicating their feelings within the household. This gave military kids the language they needed to express themselves and parents the resources to help their children deal with those emotions.

Phillips says there’s still much work to be done. While military children are identified in schools, Phillips wants kids of National Guard members recognized as well. “Their parents could be called away at any moment if the government needs them,” she explains.

Phillips also wants more resources provided in schools and says educating communities at a broader level is necessary to help military children navigate their unique trials. “The military child goes through so much—fear, sense of loss, anticipatory grief—so many things they have to navigate alone. But we can help ease their burden by learning how to support them in our schools and communities.”