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Center gives McChord families chance to ‘escape’

McChord Air Force Base, Wash. -- The name and location say it all.

Nestled in a grove of tall trees off Lincoln Boulevard, McChord's Escape Zone is a place for newborns to 5-year-olds and their parents to combat overwhelming feelings brought on by deployments or family relocation to and from McChord.

The center, which has been operating for nearly four years, gives mothers and their children a chance to learn new skills, meet new people and establish community connections, said Cheryl Vollmer, director of the McChord Airman and Family Readiness Center.

The Escape Zone provides a colorful and bright atmosphere where mothers and their children can play games, make crafts and interact with each other, said Escape Zone coordinator Frances Briseno-Wendel, 62nd Mission Support Squadron. Although parents are required to supervise their children at all times, the interaction throughout the center provides a great social opportunity for the children and their parents.

"The fact that it's on base and free is the best thing," Ms. Briseno-Wendel said. "It also provides parents a place where they can see what other services the base offers them."
It's not uncommon for mothers to connect with each other while at the center with their children and realize they live just down the street from each other, she said.

There's also a host of special guests that visit -- including Sparky the Fire Dog and guest speakers from off-base organizations. For example, in May, as part of Asian Pacific Islander Month, volunteers from the museum visited the center and shared artifacts with the children, said Ms. Briseno-Wendel.

The center also routinely brings in a representative from the family advocacy program at Life Skills to teach infant massage and infant sign language techniques, she said.
"It's a benefit to be able to tell parents about this place," said Vicki Lunghofer, a family advocacy nurse specialist with the 62nd Medical Group's New Parent Support Group. "It's such a resource."

While the visitors to the center are usually mothers and their children, as deployment buckets shift and the holiday season rings in, it isn't uncommon to see fathers and grandparents bring a child to the Escape Zone, Ms. Briseno-Wendel said.

Growth in the number of participants is a common trend with the Escape Zone, she said.

In the four years it has been open, participation has nearly quadrupled, Ms. Vollmer said.
"That really tells us that we answered a need for families here on base," she said, noting average attendance is around 500 people per month.

The Escape Zone is open Monday through Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. For a calendar of events, call 982-8590.