I moved to Okinawa in August 2018. It was an exhausting summer and a very challenging move across the world. Anytime you move, it is tough, but moving to another country adds another layer to the experience. Add in the loss of your father, and a move to the other side of the world seems impossible.
I arrived onto Okinawa excited to see my husband; yet I was grief-stricken. I had a couple of friends on the island, but I didn’t have anyone there who understood my pain. I had an online business that I was trying to continue to grow, and eventually, it became too much. Slowly, I let the business begin to dissolve, and eventually, I began to make new friends. However, there was a gap. Every day, I would wake up, and I felt like there was a gaping hole in my life. I no longer had my dad, who was a big, vibrant, forward-thinking entrepreneur. I no longer had my business, and I no longer felt like I had a purpose. I aimlessly existed on the island for over a year, and then a couple of friends tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would consider volunteering for the Okinawa Leadership Seminar, otherwise known as OLS.
OLS was created in 2017. Alumni of Camp Pendleton’s Leadership Education Seminar (LES) who had moved to Okinawa recognized a need, and they worked tirelessly to create the organization. I can’t even imagine the amount of time and energy they put into creating something that resembled Camp Pendleton’s LES; yet met the needs of the spouses on the island.
I graduated LES in the Fall of 2015, which is why I was asked to support the seminar in the fall of 2019. The model of the seminars is based on the concept that the Alumni are the only people who can volunteer in key roles, which means that the organization is completely dependent upon its graduates in order to self-sustain. Understanding this key component is why I said, “yes.”
When I arrived at the LES event, I didn’t feel like I belonged in the room. I am not a “leader.” When I was asked to facilitate discussions about leadership at OLS, once again, I didn’t feel like I was equipped to lead. However, I saw a need, and I am a good helper, so I stepped in to help as a small-group Facilitator.
Since then, I have supported the organization in a number of ways. I have been a speaker at the seminar. I have held the Administrative Director, Director of Curriculum, and Vice President roles. Currently, I am serving as the Financial Development Director. Basically, I went from asking, “what the heck am I even doing here” to saying, “how else can I help?”
I have made friends for life. I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I have made positive contributions, and I now have the confidence to walk into that seminar room knowing that I belong there. When I ask myself WHY I continue to share my time, energy, money, and talents for the organization, it is because I want other military spouses to be able to walk into rooms knowing that they BELONG there too. The gaping hole that existed in my life slowly patched itself up. It took a lot of time. It took meditation. It took prayer. It took journaling. It took fostering friendships. It took love and support from my family. It took a lot of patience from my husband, and it also took OLS and the military spouses that serve along with me to fill that hole. I will forever be grateful to have all of those people in my life.
Registration opens this week for the Fall 2022 Seminar, and I am excited for the spouses who take the time and who have the courage to walk into that room. Many of their lives with be improved because of their experience.
We are also active in our fundraising efforts because the seminar is FREE to military spouses. Fund-raising dollars is how we are able to create the impactful event.
If you know a military spouse on the island, please have him or her go to Home (okinawaleadershipseminar.org) to register on Wednesday, August 10th, 9:00am JST. Seats are limited and registration closes as soon as it hits capacity.
In addition, if you know someone who wishes to make a charitable donation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to get information on how they can support. Every dollar makes a difference.
To all of the graduates and volunteers who happen to read this, all I can say is THANK YOU! The organization would not exist without you!