HOPE MILLS, North Carolina (WTVD) -- Cumberland County Schools has rolled out a program designed to help ease the daily stresses of students with parents in the military.
The program is critical especially this time of year as the holidays are proven to be a tough time for children whose parents are deployed.
That's where Military Student Transition Consultants - MSTC - step in to help.
The MSTCs are a contracted service through the Military Child Education Coalition. The program is funded through two DoDEA grants for 17 Cumberland County Schools.
ABC11 was invited to Hope Mills Middle School for an inside look at the program. That's where we met the Lopez family.
"The pain is still there like it was yesterday," Digna Lopez said.
Her husband was killed in Iraq nearly 12 years ago.
"My life stopped at that moment. He was my high school sweetheart. My only boyfriend," Lopez said.
Her son Wideal never got a chance to get to know his dad
"I always wanted a male figure to look up to," he sobbed.
That changed once he moved to Hope Mills and met his transition counselor, Mr. Patton.
"He just taught me today how to tie my bow tie because I didn't know how. No one ever taught me," Wideal said.
Patton is one of several military transition counselors that helped the Lopez family relocate from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated their home.
Hope Mills Middle School serves more than 140 military-connected students. Through the program, it works to ease the transition to a new school and the anxiety eighth-grader Aimee Evans suffered when her dad was deployed.
"When he was deployed. It was like, I was just with my mom so you've got to learn to adapt," Aimee said.
Within 10 days of intake, the MST consultants establish relationships, help students find friends and even get them enrolled in sports.
"The saying is that military kids are very resilient. But what we've learned is they're not invulnerable," said Mark Patton.
The grant cycle for the program ends in 2020 but the school board is already looking for ways to make it permanent.