julia stephens

Branch:
Army

Duty Station:
Fort Sill

Number of Deployments:
3

Number of PCS's:
5

Share your military spouse story:
I am an Army Spouse of thirteen years. My husband and I have known each other since high school and have been married since 2007. We have four beautiful daughters ranging in age from 14 months to 8 years. I am a stay at home Mom and a full-time volunteer. In those thirteen years we have experienced Basic Training, AIT, three deployments, three years in unaccompanied tours and have moved five times. Between overseas tours and training, we have been apart for more than half of our marriage. We even moved our wedding up two weeks before our planned date because his orders were pushed up. Over the years we have learned to overcome heartbreak, loss and the obstacles life has thrown our way. I have grown as a person; the setbacks having strengthened me. I am resilient, loyal, resolute, energetic and independent. While my husband was overseas, two of our children were born. The raising of children alone has formed an unbreakable bond with our girls. As an Army wife, I am determined to make the most of our years at each duty station. When we moved to Fort Sill in 2016, our two oldest girls started school full-time. My husband suggested joining the PTA for their elementary school. Admittedly, I was a little reserved, but I signed up, paid my dues and went to the first meeting. Little did I know, that was the day my life would change. I became one of the Board Members and started my journey as a volunteer. In the last four years as a PTA Board Member, my husband has spent two tours overseas and I have given birth to our youngest two girls. Holding many chairs over the years and presiding as President for the last two, we have become one of the best associations in our district. Always looking for new ideas and ways to improve, I love what we do for our community and will continue advocating and striving for the best for our military children!

Describe your involvement in the military community:
I am a passionate person when it comes to the military life. I believe our children overcome many challenges and are stronger for it. Our children deserve a voice in the school system and my mission is to let them be heard. As an advocate for the school, the parents and the children, I am determined to make the family’s short time at each duty station nothing short of amazing. I want them involved in our community and school events. We involve the students in every fundraiser because it is important to let them have fun and know they have a vast support system at every base. Attending coffee socials, spouse fundraisers around base and organizing events for our school every month, I stay heavily involved in our school and community. We instill into our own children it is always worth your time if you changed one individual's day. Our children come with me to every event or volunteer opportunity. They love volunteering their time and feel they, too, are making a difference.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Over the last four years, I have held five positions on the Freedom Elementary PTA Board. For the last two years I have served as the PTA President. I have led a Color Run fundraiser for three consecutive years. In 2019 I managed this event with 80 volunteers, over 1400 participants and raised $9,500, tripling the first year’s profit. In addition to paid participants, we set up donations to cover all the students who could not financially participate. I am proud to say every single student was given the opportunity to run with their class. I have organized a Purple Up campaign for our students on the first Friday in April. We encourage parents, staff and military members to come to the school and cheer on the children as they arrive for the day. Currently, our association has 257 members and our school has almost 1200 military children. When we hold our monthly meetings, I take pride in being fair, honest, dedicated and being the voice for our parents and students.

Describe how you support your community:
I am enthusiastic about parent involvement in the school system. Students thrive when they have parent support. Most of these children will move several times over the course of their elementary years and it is important for them to feel at home when they go to school. I want them to know they have a village; they have a team cheering them on. PTA Board Members provide monthly events that involve the students and this school year we have raised over $20,000 for our students. Among our many accomplishments we funded incentive field trips, musical programs, computer technology, teacher grants, testing supplies, staff and volunteer appreciation luncheons . We want the students to have fun while raising money for the school. Our staff is incredible, our parents are top notch, and our military community always goes above and beyond. It’s not unusual for soldiers and their units to be involved in our events. The generous support from our military families is overwhelming at times.

What platform do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for the Parent Teacher Association at Freedom Elementary on Fort Sill. Our mission statement is “Every Child, One Voice.” We are dedicated to students having a successful school experience. Believing every school should have an association or organization to ensure students well-being through family and community engagements. Students should have a fun learning experience in a safe environment. Our children are the future and I want them to feel they will change the world. They deserve a voice to stand up for them and parent involvement. Our goal is to not overlook any student and provide them with equal opportunities. We strive to support them with the best tools and learning environment. The level of support from our military community is outstanding, we work as a team to make incredible memories for the students. By joining hands, we are shaping our children’s future and we are stronger together.

How have you spread the message of your platform?
I have had the pleasure of speaking on behalf of our association through our local news station, the school district’s news outlet, our Fort Sill Tribune and representing my husband’s unit on a panel for our military community. I am an admin on our school and PTA Facebook pages. This year we implemented a communication app for volunteer signups and information. Our social media sites are used to provide the most up to date information and hear feedback from parents. Every month I send out a PTA Newsletter providing upcoming information along with our budgets and profits. We keep a professional persona and are there to help any parent who may have questions about our school. I volunteer several days a week at the school and am available to speak to parents or staff outside of school hours. As a PTA, we want every parent and staff member to know that we have their best interest at heart.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
Being humbled by this nomination, I would hope to spread the message that the PTA is more than just fundraising. My goal is to have an association or organization of parents and staff in every school across America. Ultimately, I would like to see every student thrive and know they have support. It would be amazing to spread the message that when we join hands, we change the future. Every child deserves the best and safest learning environment. They should have lunch, clean clothes, field trips, pencils for testing, school supplies and love. My mission is to make it known that our students are our world. Through fundraising we supply a great deal for our school and my objective is to take what I have learned and apply it to others. I want to help the schools gain the knowledge and ability to support their students through parent, staff and community participation. I have found a purpose in volunteering and I am beyond grateful for my team. If we all give a little, we all gain a lot.

Nominations

Julia has been part of the Freedom Elementary School PTA for the last few years. During her time at Fort Sill she has held multiple positions within the PTA, and has assisted in raising tens of thousands of dollars for our school's technology fund that supplements our school district's funding. Julia has not only managed her husband being deployed and raising four daughters while being the President, but she also runs our school's annual Color Run event which has now become a well attended and much anticipated community staple. This year Julia planned and executed this event, raising 9500 dollars toward our ultimate goal of 20,000 dollars. She was able to coordinate enough donations to allow every single one of our 1200 students an opportunity to run in the Color Run event for free. Julia is an inspirational leader. Her willingness to dedicate hundreds of hours to planning events on a volunteer basis makes all the difference for our students and families on our installation!
- by lea-ann wadleigh