Six-year-old David Valencia of Brookfield and 4-year-old Xantana Lopez help Maj. Gen. Dennis L. Celletti of Springfield, the Acting Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard cut the ribbon.Photo by Maj. Bradford Leighton, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs

Courtesy Illinois National Guard

The Illinois National Guard opened its first Regional Center of Excellence (RCOE) Dec. 9 at the North Riverside Armory in North Riverside. Two additional facilities will open in 2013 in Bartonville and in Mount Vernon. Two additional facilities will open in 2013 in Bartonville and in Mount Vernon.

“It is the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who serve this nation in times of need, but it is their families who serve a major role in their readiness,” said Maj. Gen. Dennis L. Celletti of Springfield, the Acting Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. “If the family isn’t ready, the service member is not ready. It’s critical that families are getting the help they need.”

The RCOE will offer a wide range of services to service members and their families such as: ID cards, family care plans, financial management and assistance, legal assistance, social services, crisis information and referral, family readiness training and employment opportunities.

“The RCOE will be a one-stop shop for military families seeking assistance,” said Capt. Mindi Ernst of Springfield, the Illinois National Guard’s Family Programs director.

The RCOE will be open at least five days a week to servicemembers and veterans in the Chicagoland area, said Capt. Jeremy Dugena of Batavia, the North Riverside RCOE supervisor. With all family support services in one location, servicemembers will no longer be referred from one office to another.

“A lot of Soldiers don’t realize the resources that are available to them,” said Dugena. “We have an exceptional (contracted) staff as well as military personnel working in this center who can provide guidance or referral services specific to the family’s needs there. This makes it a lot easier for them.”

Dugena said servicemembers can walk in seeking help and they will be directed to the proper sections. There they can speak privately with staff members and discuss their issues. With these resources in one place in the Chicago area, he said this takes pressure off the shoulders of units and the Soldiers when they are seeking aid.

“Now when issues arise, units can point Soldiers to the RCOE and have everything handled at one location versus going to different locations between Springfield and Chicago,” said Dugena.

With centralized assets in facilities throughout the state, military families will have support available when they need it, said Eric Murray, director of Servicemember and Family Support Services Branch of the Illinois National Guard.

Murray said over the years new programs to improve military family readiness training, support and response programs have been introduced in Illinois, which are available to servicemembers.

“The well-being of a servicemembers’ family is top priority,” said Murray. “We want to take all that into account so when they get the call for deployment or state active duty it’s a smooth transition from family man to servicemember.”

Family Programs is comprised of multiple programs and resources to assist servicemembers of all branches of the Armed Forces and their families. For more information and services available at the North Riverside RCOE, please contact Capt. Jeremy Dugena at 708-824-6058.