Kodiak Coast Guard spouse Joyce Lorch has been selected as the Military Spouse of the Year for Coast Guard District 17, which covers the State of Alaska, putting her in contention for the national Military Spouse of the Year Award selected annually among candidates from all branches of the armed forces.
For Lorch, the honor serves as an opportunity to highlight a cause close to her heart — foster care.
As a mother of four kids between the ages of eight and 14, and the wife of a machinery technician on the Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley who leaves on weeks-long deployments every few months, Lorch may seem like an unlikely foster parent. But she says that being a Coast Guard spouse has prepared her well for the task.
“We understand that home is where our heart is, not where all our stuff is, and I believe that is what can make Coast Guard families good foster families, even though they don’t have a stable address,” she said. “Some of these kids only need a couple months, just to help out until their parents can get stable.”
Before she was transferred to Kodiak in 2018, Lorch decided she would begin fostering once she settled on the island, inspired by another Coast Guard spouse she knew in her last duty station in Michigan.
“Military life gives us great tools that these children can learn from. We learn to be resilient during transfers, independent when our spouse is deployed, supportive to everyone around us, resourceful in unexpected situations, and adaptable to new places and people,” she wrote in her Spouse of the Year profile. “They, like us, are thrown into a new situation with ties to an old one, just like transfer season. We may only stay in a place for a few years, but these children may only need a small amount of time to be truly helped.”
She found that the need in Kodiak was particularly urgent. Lorch turned in her paperwork in March 2019, and within a few weeks she and her husband became foster parents.
“Shortly after that I got my first kids. It was a really good experience. Just eye-opening to the true need,” she said. Recently, she has done emergency placement and respite care, which provides short-term solutions for children who need immediate homes. She also offers babysitting services, free-of-charge, for families currently fostering children, to offer them relief when they need it.
Since Lorch has gotten involved in foster care, she has encouraged other families to get involved in foster care, both in Kodiak and in Michigan and Wisconsin, where she was previously stationed.
“There’s a huge need,” she said. “With the drug crisis that we have, the foster system is getting more little kids. These are kids who aren’t getting fed, who are getting beat up, who are getting abused. There are so many misconceptions when it comes to foster care.”
Lorch said that when she first became a foster parent, she relied on YouTube videos to learn about the process. The biggest thing is realizing that because of their background, they may be developmentally delayed.
She said the experience of fostering, with its challenges and rewards, has also benefited her kids.
“All of my kids have truly grown from it in more positive ways than I could have imagined,” she said. “My youngest, who typically acts like a baby, did a 180. He was such a nurturing brother. It was so exciting to see that in him … As soon as we had the foster kids he was like a mother hen.”
Her kids became more willing to help out in the family. “They learned to appreciate what we have,” she said.
Lorch said the uncertainty and constant movement that is part of military life helps military families understand the hardships that foster kids experience.
“We can understand where they’re coming from, why they’re scared coming into a brand-new environment. We have no friends when we get to where we are going … All of the things that we go through, these kids are going through, too,” she said. “We’re courageous because we’re going to new places.”
Lorch said families shouldn’t be scared of the process. Most foster kids just want a person they can trust, she said. Having a person who is invested in their wellbeing can make a permanent difference in kids’ lives.
While fostering is the cause dearest to her heart, it is far from the only contribution Lorch has made to the Kodiak community. From the moment she arrived on the island, she has served as the treasurer of the middle school Parent Teacher Association, a scout committee member and den leader, and a leader in the Base Kodiak Spouses’ Association. In 2019, she helped lead Santa to the Villages, which delivered gifts to 150 kids living in remote communities on the island.
She also regularly cooks and bakes for the meals provided by Base Kodiak Chapel to service members living in the barracks. She is a Sunday school teacher and has organized the Daddy-Daughter Dance for the Star of the Sea Chapel on Base Kodiak.
“I try my best to see the needs of the people around me and help,” she wrote in a profile that appears on the Military Spouse of the Year website. “I watch tired moms’ kids, give rides to those who need them, befriend the lonely and help where I can.”
Despite her innumerable contributions, Lorch said she was surprised to receive the recognition. She was nominated by Stacie Workman, who received the same honor last year. Workman commended her for taking the reins on organizing the Stiles Clark Auction in 2018, immediately after transferring to Kodiak with her family. The auction raises funds for Santa to the Villages, community scholarships and grants to local charities.
“She took on this huge responsibility when no one else would,” Workman wrote in her nomination. “Her heart is simply a kind and giving heart! She is always there for her family, friends, command, and her community.”
Lorch will find out if she makes the next cut later this month.