Nominations are closed. Come back February 3 to meet the candidates!

Martha Claire Lepore

Branch: National Guard

Duty Station: Louisiana

Number of Deployments: 1

Number of PCS's: 0

Share your military spouse story:
When my husband told me in October 2019 that his unit was going to deploy, it was like someone took the wind out of me. Some part of me thought that would never happen to a National Guardsman. I was devastated. A year away? But so many spouses have done it before, everything will be fine, I told myself. And then I remembered - his contract was almost up. He would be out of the Guard before they even left for deployment - we were off the hook! But we weren't. He wanted to go. He deeply desired to serve his country. To my dismay, he extended his contract and committed to the deployment. I felt all my plans falling apart. Moving, children, travel, all of it, paused. I was devastated. Before we knew it, it was time for him to leave, and we were hugging goodbye in the parking lot. The first few months were challenging. I have never lived on my own. I had to figure out how to do daily tasks alone, which seems silly, but was surprisingly difficult. I felt stuck, frozen in time. All of a sudden, we rounded the corner into a new year, and I woke up from that fog. I was suddenly inspired to put more dedication and passion than ever into my teaching career, personal growth, and spending time with those who matter most in my life. The deployment even led to being closer than ever with my husband. Modern technology allowed us to talk via text and facetime, and we shared every detail, good and bad. We went through grief together as we mourned the loss of his childhood best friend. We were emotionally destroyed by the fact that he could not leave the deployment to attend the funeral. We went through great personal growth together as we pushed each other to take our health seriously as we both lost weight, thousands of miles apart. We made plans together mapping out what we would do to launch ourselves towards our dreams. I never thought I would have to experience deployment, but it made me a stronger person for my husband, students, family, and friends.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
My leadership experience within the military community was first noticed when I received the Barksdale Spouses' Club scholarship for teachers in 2020 for my dedication to the debate team. I was awarded $500 and recognized on base for this achievement. I also show my leadership in how I work in the classroom. Many of my students are military and it is my goal to make them feel comfortable and welcome in my room. Finally, I feel as a wife of a guardsman, the roll of a leader is primarily about knowing your husband's trusted fellow soldiers, and reaching out to them as well as their families. Leadership can be born in the smallest of gestures and forming of friendships. I believe the relationships we've built through the guard reflects this dedication to service members. I am keen to reach out to other soldiers and their spouses for various reasons including wellness and mental health checks and to organize social gatherings. This is my strongest method of servitude.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
My involvement within the military community is on a more personal level. My goal is to build relationships with service members and their spouses on a more individual level. For example, as the deployment went on, I was diligent about checking on one particular military spouse throughout, making sure she knew I was available to her if necessary. In another instance, without even meeting her, I befriended the wife of a soldier who became one of my husband's closest confidants overseas. She and I have since organized a reunion of the deployed soldiers to bring them all back together. As a teacher, I have many military students. I always make a point to let them know I understand what they are going through. I let them know they have a teacher they can talk to if they ever need someone to lend an ear. I am eager to continue my outreach to these students and provide them with a support system.

Describe how you support your community:
I support my community primarily through education. As a teacher, I try to go above and beyond the call of my classroom. I teach art to grades 9 through 12, but I find the job to be so much more than that. I am interested in learning about students, and helping them reach goals and find motivation for their future plans. I have the utmost empathy for my students of military background, and through supporting them, I hope that I am giving support to their parents. It is so important for a military parent to know their student is in the classroom of a caring and understanding teacher, especially when moving from school to school and state to state. However, this extends to all my students in and out of the military community. If I hear a student is hurting for clothes, food, or other basic needs, I will do everything in my power to find those resources. I give as much as I can to these kids in hopes they will feel cared for and believed in. This is how I support my community.

What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for mental health and wellness for all. This starts right here in my home where anxiety is a very real thing for both my husband and I. When one of us needs to seek help from a therapist, we have made a pact to encourage one another to go. I have seen many pained by failing to tend to their mental health. I believe this is because there is still a stigma against getting help. I see this beyond my home as well. I have many close friends and family members who deal with anxiety and depression for a variety of reasons. Mental health was the forefront of my apprehension about my husband's deployment. What sort of mental damage would it do to both of us? I'd be lying if I say we both got off scot free. I also see my students struggle day in and day out with mental health. One in particular checks in with me daily letting me know where she stands each day just in case we need to seek help from the school counselor. I stand for placing mental health as a priority for all.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Throughout the deployment, I found myself opening up to others about where I stood with mental health. I created a series of photography depicting the feelings I experienced in my husband's absence. I believe sharing these images was not just a form of art, but also a message of "it's okay to not be okay". I hope that my openness reminds others they are not alone, and that it is alright to seek care for your mental health. I want everyone, especially military members and their spouses, to feel comfortable enough to seek help, even in the form of preventative care. I spread this message by inviting the spouses I know to share their hardships with me. I even call and check on one of the soldiers my husband was deployed with. I let my husband know it's okay to have feelings of anxiety and encourage him to get the help he needs. I would love to use my voice to let others know mental healthcare is nothing to be embarrassed about and should be placed at the top of our self care lists.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
With the title of AFI Military Spouse of the Year, I hope to make connections with other spouses, I have grown so close with the friends I have made through my husband's time in the National Guard. I hope that in meeting others, I can learn from their example, hear their messages, and help them spread their platforms. Finally, I would strive to spread my message to make mental healthcare normal. I want this message to reach everyone including military members, their spouses, and I would aim to include extending this message to civilians. I strive to provide a message of self love and positivity to the students in my classroom. This spills over into my daily life. One of my favorite quotes by Sarah Stevenson is "Act confident and no one will question you." I believe confidence and positivity is a muscle you work, and the more you practice it, the more it will flourish. The same can be said for mental health. The more you tend to it, the better it will be. Thank you.

Nominations

I'm nominating Martha-Claire this year for LA Guard MSOY. Not only is she an all-around amazing person, she is also a very dedicated and talented teacher at a local high school where she is known for being extremely welcoming and kind to military students. She is viewed as a mentor by the mil-kids, and she handled a recent year long deployment with incredible grace and strength. Martha-Claire is a strong voice and I believe she would inspire fellow spouses in finding their inner strength, even in the difficult times that military life can bring.
- by Cherie Groninger

Mrs. Lepore is an amazing teacher, military spouse, and community member. Her husband was deployed for nearly the entire year of 2021. Through this time she was a rock for her students, her friends, and so many others. As a military child I see how she loves other students like me. She really understands our struggles and is there with a hug when we need her. Her love for her students goes well beyond the school house. Just today she was on social media rallying community members to provide necessities for a homeless student in her class. This is who she is at her core. My mother and several of my mentors are MSOY's. What I have seen in friends like Jess Manfre, Bree Carroll, Maria Reed, Brittany Boccher, and Samantha Gomolka is incredible. I feel MC Lepore has the characteristics to stand with these awesome spouses representing AFI as a part of MSOY. She loves bigger than we deserve and I cannot think of anyone more deserving to be Louisiana's Army Guard Military Spouse of the Year!
- by Brianna Grace Cooley