United Health Foundation has partnered with Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) to create Operation: Reach, an interactive online platform that provides resources to help children in military families cope with stressors and thrive despite the unique pressures they face, such as watching loved ones and parents deploy and return home from service. Scott Masters, vice president, UnitedHealthcare Benefit Operations, who grew up on Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, recently returned to the Jacksonville base for a visit and spoke with the youth who piloted Operation: Reach. Following is a Q&A with Scott.
Q: Tell us about your experience growing up at NAS Jacksonville?
A: I moved to Jacksonville when I was 8 years old. My father was in the Marine Corp and NAS Jacksonville was our last duty station before he retired.
I loved the base atmosphere because there was so much happening. It's a little city all unto itself. I took advantage of all the base offered, from swim team to bowling league, and everything in between. My experience on the base exposed me to things I never would have been exposed to. My mother worked in the base construction office, and I loved visiting both her and my father at their offices. He held a leadership role and I have fond memories of watching him interact with young Marines. He treated them with respect, and stayed in contact with some of them for almost 20 years.
Q: What tools and resources were available to you as a military youth?
A: Naturally, as a military family we moved a few times. I distinctly remember my father getting moving orders from the Pentagon down to Quantico. We had to just pick up and move. There was no discussion or counseling available. We were sad; we had to fend for ourselves in terms of relationships and figure out a new support structure. When you're a kid, that support structure is your friends. I remember going in to the fourth grade in Virginia in the middle of the school year. It was a difficult experience. I just showed up one day for school without any discussion about the transition.
In contrast, at NAS Jacksonville Boys & Girls Club there are far more tools, people and programs focusing on youth and what they're experiencing. Kids today have much better technology to help them stay in touch with their parents while they're deployed, whether it's overseas or at a duty station for training. When my father was stationed in Vietnam, he was gone for close to two years and we had a hard time communicating with him. He would send us cassettes of recorded messages and we'd listen to them at night, hanging on to every word and sound.
At NAS Jacksonville, programs, including counselors, are also available to help kids cope with a parent who is deployed. Over the years we've learned that healthy families make healthy soldiers, and what I saw on my visit to NAS Jacksonville was that the focus wasn't always just the kids, but rather the family unit.
Q: What did you take away from your BGCA visit at NAS Jacksonville?
A: I was impressed with the maturity of the teens. I walked away thinking: "Wow! These are not kids; these are well-adjusted, mature young people who have a vision for where they're going." I was impressed with how bright and assertive they were, and I really enjoyed engaging with them. I also enjoyed talking with some of the young families who attended. One family had a young child not yet participating in the Club, but it was great to see them engaged and taking advantage of resources that would be available in the future.
Q: What excites you about the social responsibility work we're doing across the enterprise?
A: So much excites me. Before I came to UnitedHealthcare, I was at a local Florida company involved in community events and service, but on a smaller scale. Our giving! program has so much more to offer. Employees can pick where they want to give and when they want to give and the company will match the funds. I appreciate that UnitedHealth Group gives us the flexibility to give to organizations that matter most to us.