Service Doesn’t End, It Just Takes a Different Form
By: Heatherlynn Akins
If you know anything about Powerhouse Planning, you know it’s got military ties. Our founder and president is a proud Coast Guard spouse who started Powerhouse because of her deep desire not only to have a portable career for herself, but also to be able to offer the same to other military spouses and veterans. You might say that supporting military families is a passion of hers. While not all of us are military spouses or veterans, we all love our military-connected coworkers. Which is why we thought April was the perfect time to shine some light on two of our Powerhouse freelancers, as April is Military Spouse Appreciation Month. Both are veterans and military spouses who have made service part of their lifestyles.
Sarah Zerr, one of Powerhouse’s project managers, and Crystal Toy, one of our social media strategists, have been with Powerhouse for less than a year after serving in the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, respectively. We recently sat down with both of them to reflect on their experiences and how they’re continuing a lifetime of service even after their active-duty time has come to an end.
PH: What branch did you serve in and for how long?
Sarah: I went to the Naval Academy and served in the Marine Corps as a helicopter pilot. All told, I spent over 10 years in uniform.
Crystal: I served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 14 years and 11 months. The majority of my work was concentrated in port security, federal law enforcement, and search and rescue missions.
PH: And both of your husbands are also military, correct?
Sarah: Yes, my husband Greg is also in the Marne Corps. We actually met at the Naval Academy and married on graduation weekend. Now he is in the reserves. Proud wife brag: He was recently named the Defense Logistics Agency field grade reservist of the year!
Crystal: My husband has been in the Coast Guard since 2006. He’s currently serving as the Armory Supervisor and Lead Firearms Instructor for USCG Sector Puget Sound.
PH: Congratulations to both of you. Sounds like you have both moved successfully on to being military spouses and veterans. What made you decide to serve in the first place?
Sarah: When I was young, I visited the Naval Academy and just knew that’s where I wanted to go. I had no real concept of what that meant, but as I grew it felt like a calling to have the honor of serving my country.
Crystal: Like so many other military members, I wanted to travel the world, experience other cultures, and challenge myself. The Coast Guard gave me the opportunity to follow some of those dreams.
PH: Well, we already know what you’ve decided to do career-wise since leaving active duty, but how do you find ways to continue serving your communities? We all know that once you’re called to a life of service it’s hard to just turn that off.
Sarah: My husband and I both serve as Blue and Gold Officers, which means we serve as admissions representatives for the Naval Academy. We’re points of contact for students applying, a place where they can ask questions and conduct their admissions interviews. We serve the Naval Academy by ensuring the most fully qualified candidates are applying, but we also serve the applicants so they have the best understanding they can of what they’re entering into. I also serve as the K-3rd grade cross country head coach for my children’s school. Running can be a lifelong positive outlet, and I want all kids to view themselves as athletes who can do hard things.
Crystal: I serve as a member of the Women’s Veterans Alliance and Student Veterans of America. I’m the social media manager for a Facebook group of over 5,000 women who have served or are currently serving in the Coast Guard. My entire family volunteers at the Sammamish Animal Sanctuary, which is a nonprofit farm that rescues animals in need. It’s important to give our kids the chance to volunteer at an early age, and the animal sanctuary is an amazing place to start a lifelong passion for volunteering.
PH: As you know, April is Military Spouse Appreciation Month. What is the best thing, in your opinion, about being a military member and military family?
Sarah: The people you meet along the way. We come from varied backgrounds and experiences, but there is an instant connection because we share a desire to serve. My favorite example of what it means to be a military family is a school’s “Emergency Contact” form. You fill it out at the beginning of the school year when you may have only been in place for a few weeks. Inevitably, you put down another military family as your emergency contact and nobody ever questions it. There is already an understanding and instant connection of belonging and friendship.
Crystal: Absolutely, the people you meet. Also, the opportunity to travel the world and raise your children with the ability to experience a wide variety of cultures and experiences that leads to a broadened perspective on life.
Sarah: Yes. The military gave me such an appreciation for being an American and a different perspective on the world. It makes you grateful for the rights we have as Americans and pride in being part of the legacy willing to protect those freedoms.
Crystal: This lifestyle definitely has taught me that military families are resilient. We’re constantly presented with challenges and while we may resist them initially, we always manage to turn the situation into a positive experience.
PH: I’m guessing that’s one reason why community service is so important for both of you. It gives you an opportunity to find the positive. What advice do you have for someone wanting to get involved?
Sarah: Give back in ways that are meaningful to you. Money is great, but donating time and talent are just as impactful. Find organizations or causes that speak to you.
Crystal: Your local Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start. They can talk to you about local opportunities and help you find a way to give back that resonates with you. Plus, you’ll likely meet and make new friends along the way.
PH: In closing, we’ll ask one final question about military life. What is the one thing you wish people knew about military families and/or the military life?
Sarah: Military families can struggle with all the moves. We don’t get to put down roots in the same way that non-military families do. We’re always being displaced and starting over. That can be especially difficult for kids. I am so grateful for the families of my kids’ friends who included mine, no matter where we lived, even knowing it would lead to some hard good-byes just a few years later. It gives us roots in each of the places we’ve lived.
Crystal: There is incredible strength in military families. We appreciate where we are and what we have at all times, considering the uncertain nature of our lifestyle. We are extremely flexible and excel at making quick, creative decisions. We make the choice every day to see the silver lining in what many outsiders believe is an unfathomable way of living. We’re proud Americans, living the dream.
The resilience and unique experiences of our military families are incredibly enriching to the work we do here at Powerhouse. Our freelancers, such as Sarah and Crystal, are constantly amazing us with their continued dedication to their communities, even after their active military service ends. Their continued service is one of the reasons our Share the Goodness campaign is a favorite part of working for Powerhouse. For more information on how our freelancers have grown our Share the Goodness campaign and the work they do, check out our 2021 Year in Review here.