When Andrea Templeton met her husband Brian Tollefson in 2005, she was working in Los Angeles as the director of marketing for a surgical and wellness center. Prior to marketing, she had worked for nine years in the entertainment industry. Andrea loved living in California, but when Brian came into her life it was “one of those amazing things.” He was a test pilot for the Navy, and the couple married just 15 months after they met so that they would be together when he was transferred to Dayton, Ohio and then to Lexington Park, Md.
“I had a fantastic network in Los Angeles, which I relied on professionally. When I moved, there were not a lot of job opportunities for me, in part because I had not finished my degree. So I decided to take the opportunity to go back to school,” she explained. “I mentioned to my husband that I wanted to go to a liberal arts college, with a beautiful campus, small classes, and a great film department — a really good school where I would genuinely learn. He mentioned that St. Mary’s College of Maryland was just a few minutes away, and when I visited it was exactly what I wanted.”
Andrea transferred to SMCM as a junior and finished her B.A. with a major in theater, film and media studies.
While in Maryland, Andrea had started a nonprofit called The Crib, which provided case management and support services for single parents in critical situations. She loved the work, but she was looking forward to returning to California, degree in hand, to pursue her first love of storytelling. “I was very excited at the prospect of going back,” she said.
Then came unexpected news: Brian would be stationed in Japan for three years. By now, Andrea had one child and was pregnant with her second. The news of their overseas relocation was crushing. “Up until then I’d had some semblance of professional life, but in Japan there were no job opportunities for military spouses. Plus, my husband would be deployed seven months of every year, so I would be alone with the two kids. Then my mom passed away while we were there. It was a difficult time,” she recalled.
While Andrea was battling her feelings of dismay and helplessness, she realized that she was not alone. “A lot of military spouses living in Japan were in the same position,” she explained. “Many had left their dream jobs to follow their spouses overseas, and there were few useful resources for highly educated spouses seeking meaningful work.”
The facts are bleak: 70% of military spouses have a college education or advanced degree, and 90% report being underemployed, while nearly 40% are not working in their chosen fields (Military Officers Association of America, 2014). Even those who do find “gainful” employment experience a significant pay gap, making 38% less on average than their civilian counterparts.
When Andrea met Lynn Waidelich, a Ph.D. in education whose own career “had hit a brick wall” in Japan, they decided to join forces and do something about it. “We wanted to fill the gap,” Andrea recalled. “Our first idea was a networking site, but then we found another organization doing that and realized that the real missing piece was in sharing and storytelling. No one was really talking about how hard it is to mix serious career aspirations with frequent moves. Even at official spouses’ meetings, I’ve been asked to share my name, how many kids I have, and what my husband does. It can feel very isolating.”
The duo formed a nonprofit called “The Other Side of Service” to offer real support for others in their situation. “We wanted to rebrand the military spouse,” Andrea explained. The “our story” section of the website features weekly videos and blog entries profiling military spouses. “It’s a place where people can read and hear stories of challenges and victories from those in similar positions.”
The group’s initial crowdsourcing campaign raised money to produce the first year of content. They have built a steadily growing community of military spouse professionals, and have been gaining the attention of the larger military family service community. The Other Side of Service was recently invited to The White House to meet with the Joining Forces Initiative in the Office of the First Lady. “The meeting was fantastic!” said Andrea. “Joining Forces has done so much for military spouse employment issues, and the meeting confirmed the important role storytelling plays in creating lasting change.”
For Andrea, working with The Other Side of Service has brought her full circle. It combines her passion for storytelling with her background in marketing and her love for nonprofit work and serving her community.
Learn more about their work: theothersideofservice.com