As an Army wife who has moved to seven different cities in the past 18 years, Janet Sanchez says the scariest thing is the unknown. She says you’re always thinking, “Where are we going next?” “Where is he going next?” Life is lived on a day-by-day basis.
Although she spends her days, and sometimes nights, helping the military community, 38-year-old Sanchez still has a lightness in her step because she is in love with her work, and she is also happy she’s accomplished one of her life’s most important goals. Not only did she get to meet Oprah, she’s being featured in the “Oprah’s Favorite Things” celebration airing on the OWN Network on November 18.
In 2007, Sanchez, who was born and raised in Cidra, Puerto Rico, and now resides in Schertz, Texas, saw a specific need for Spanish-speaking military wives. So she created an informative Web site called Esposas Militares Hispanas to translate benefits information and tell them where to take English classes. Her diligent work earned her a nomination as a top five finalist for Military Spouse Magazine’s 2012 Army Military Spouse of the Year.
“It’s unbelievable,” says Sanchez, who flew to Washington, DC in September to meet her idol. “It was always my dream to meet her. She’s a very inspirational woman.”
Sanchez says she wasn’t expecting to be nominated Military Spouse of the Year by the military community, let alone be chosen by Military Spouse Magazine to be on the Oprah show.
“They chose 29 females spouses, and one male spouse,” says the fun-loving Sanchez. “Oprah came out, and it was amazing. I think it was the most important thing that happened in my life…I still get chills.”
Just describing the emotional experience, which evoked so many simultaneous feelings, makes Sanchez choke up. She says she has her tissues ready for her TV appearance Sunday. Besides meeting Oprah, she says she met the other nominees and got to know their personal stories over two days.
“She said that we had to remember we were there for a reason and to always remember how much work we have done…” says Sanchez, regarding Oprah’s message to the group. “After that experience, I think everybody got so close that I consider them part of my family.”
Sanchez says it was her grandparents who taught her the importance of giving back when she was just a child.
“My grandparents taught me that whenever you have a chance, you have to give a hand,” she says. Sanchez is now teaching her three children the same values. “If you have the time and ability, you have to do it…I think the values and the morals they taught me has made me who I am today.”
Esposas Militares Hispanas, which now has approximately 4,000 members worldwide, started as a group on Facebook with a small group of 10 local military families. Slowly, Sanchez started getting e-mails from U.S. bases in other countries as well.
“I saw the need, and how big it was,” says Sanchez of the countless military spouses she encountered with language barriers. “Their husbands joined the military, but they didn’t know English. They didn’t know the benefits or how to get involved in the community…Our main purpose is to provide them with guidance — where to go to learn English, whatever they need help with.”
Her site has become so successful that she now has one woman helping her from each of the four military branches — the Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force and Army.
“We have never met, but we have been in contact over the phone and e-mail, says Sanchez. “We have many successful stories of women succeeding in English, using their masters’ degrees — it’s very uplifting. “They say, ‘Thank you, because you gave me that push and told me not to have fear,’ and that makes me happy. It means we did our job.”
Sanchez says the site’s newest features are a forum and virtual classes, in Spanish, that teach things like how to read the hard-to-decipher military pay stubs.
“When a military spouse stays behind, they have to take care of the bills and finances,” says Sanchez. “We translate everything and teach them how to read them block by block. It’s recorded and will always be there. We are planning to do more classes in the future to help even more. I love it.”
Sanchez is a busy mom who has also been fighting lupus for the past 14 years. Yet, she still makes herself available to her members 24-7. She says she was once a military spouse who was afraid to speak English, but now she finds fulfillment helping others overcome that fear.
“I have received calls at 3am, and I don’t mind,” says Sanchez about her never-ending job, which she loves. “And if I have to cry with them, I cry with them. Sometimes military wives need someone to talk to. If we don’t support each other who’s going to support us?”