The Spotlight series highlights individuals in first responder life and FRC who have felt an impact, made an impact, and shared an impact with others. We need to share our stories to know we’re not alone and we can do this… together!
Caroline: This month, our Spotlight is on none other than First Responder Coaching’s Founder and CEO, Jennifer Anderson herself. Jen was a police wife for about 15 years when her husband, Kevin, was becoming so affected by the job that he needed intervention. We’re going to talk briefly about that journey and how it led to the creation of First Responder Coaching, a turn of events Jen didn’t see coming a few years ago.
Jen, thanks for being in the Spotlight today! How are you?
Jen: Thank you, Caroline. I am doing wonderful. Thank you for asking.
Caroline: Absolutely. Let’s start by talking about what it’s like as a police wife.
Jen: Yeah, so as a police wife, it was an interesting beginning to his career. We lived in the same city that he worked for the first couple of years. It made life a little bit challenging but rewarding as he was serving the same community we were living in. That was really a positive for him and us.
In the beginning of police life, we were very proud he was a member of the police force, not knowing what we were getting into. There were lots of insinuations about the rough calls, the long hours, the missing holidays and anniversaries. But we handled that in stride the first few years before children. Those first few years were really great, positive, even fun years of our marriage.
As time went on, weight of the job, we decided to move out of the city he was policing in. We moved about 40 minutes outside of the city to give ourselves a buffer between his job and our home. As time went on, the challenges of the job were beginning to outweigh some of the positives of the job. Kevin was the epitome of a police officer. He could be the poster child of policing, very proud to wear the badge.
Continuing his career, it was about year ten that we noticed that the weight, the experiences that he had on the job, were affecting him in some negative ways. He was an amazing father the entire time, still is, our daughters represented what was happening in the present moment. I was the one who represented his past and his future. Sometimes, those were hard pieces to process but, in terms of amazing fatherhood, he was always present for our girls. I think that helped him navigate some of those challenges.
Unfortunately, it was year fifteen that led to a very tragic downfall in terms of his mental health and wellness. As a police wife, we watch quietly from the sidelines. We can see some of the challenges that our first responder is facing. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of tools. There aren’t a lot of people having conversations around what those signs and symptoms of a potential mental health break look like.
It was December of 2017 when Kevin was on the couch for a number of days crying. His empathy bucket was overflowing. He just couldn’t take it anymore. Shortly thereafter, he was hospitalized for six weeks here in Massachusetts for severe PTSD and Complex PTSD and literally everything that came with it.
It was a challenge for our girls – seven and ten at the time – to understand why Daddy wasn’t coming home. I did my best to express to them that Daddy needed help. He needed support, he needed to get better and focus on himself. We were able to Facetime him every single night. I think that helped ease some of the nerves, some of the scared pieces of what the girls were trying to understand. I always made sure that they understood it was time that Daddy needed to heal.
Shortly after his hospitalization, he returned home. I was again trying to navigate what our foundation looked like, which had been totally rocked. Financially, if he can’t work, how are we going to pay the bills? Emotionally, here was this man who was supposed to be my foundation, my rock, that had no ability to function as an adult. How was I going to juggle daily ins and outs during his hospitalization and even a little while after?
So, I had all of these lingering challenges that I needed to navigate as a woman, as a wife, as a mom. I turned to coaching as a way to help me identify daily the steps I needed to take to become the woman, the wife, the mother I needed to be during that time.
Caroline: How did you get introduced to coaching initially?
Jen: I was introduced to coaching through a former student of mine. I was a high school English teacher for seventeen years. A former student of mine had been working with the Bob Proctor’s Thinking Into Results program. It’s a twelve week program in which we set goals and take steps breaking down the terror barriers and set really strong goals, and we take action steps towards them to accomplish them.
My goal that I set for myself during those twelve weeks was actually to run a 5K. For some people I know that’s maybe not a huge accomplishment. For me – I’ve never enjoyed running – I wanted to do this for me. But how is running a 5K rebuilding the foundation of your marriage? It really did in ways I never anticipated. It gave me something to focus on, something to grow through. Because I was able to push myself, it allowed me to really understand what our family needed, what we could do, what I could do to save our family, our marriage, our foundation.
So, after that initial twelve weeks, I knew that coaching was something that could impact in a much greater capacity.
Caroline: Just to back up for a second, did you guys get married before Kevin became a police officer or after?
Jen: Before, we were married in ‘04 and he started his career in January of ‘05.
Caroline: So, people like to say, “watch out for this, watch out for that.” Did any of those warnings have any impact on you at the time? Did it hold any weight for you or did you think they were burnt out.
Jen: His Field Training Officer would stop at our apartment and talk about the job, say to keep an eye out. [He’d say] some pieces here and there. Even early on, there were a number of Kevin’s mentors on the job that did leave the career. I remember thinking, “At what point in your job do you start thinking it’s not for you anymore?” I never anticipated that for us. So, even though I heard some of the warnings, not being present for certain occasions, having to adjust…
There was a Thanksgiving that we had asked for time to be adjusted because of his schedule. He was working three to eleven and they were having dinner at two or two thirty. We had asked if they could adjust the timing so he could be there for Thanksgiving and then go to work. We were told, “No.” They had other arrangements, other people were coming, so they couldn’t change the time on it. He came for an hour, then took his plate to go. He couldn’t eat with us.
Those are the kind of things that people outside the job, outside the field, don’t fully understand the weight or impact that had on us. So, moving forward, we were very cognizant if anyone needed a schedule change for Thanksgiving dinner. What could we do; how could we help make sure we’re providing what we need for our first responder family?
Caroline: Yes, it’s really hard to get that message across to the young bloods, those just coming into that world, especially those who didn’t have first responders in their families. They are brand new to the first responder life. You bring up a lot of good points. You hear warnings, but sometimes you have to just experience it in order to believe all the things that people tell you.
Jen: Yes, absolutely. Knowing that the job was going to change him was absolutely an expectation. You know in life that every day you make decisions that impact and affect you in little ways. When you marry someone, you have the foundation of the values and the core of who you anticipate being throughout that marriage and that you two are going to run a parallel course.
With the job, every time he experienced something tragic or crisis level, it kind of bumped him off from this course. So, there might be some waves, but instead of the two paths of being together in the same direction, those events really led him off the path of our foundation and our relationship and how we were moving together forward.
Caroline: Let’s go back to the other end of it; let’s go back to coaching. You reached the goal of your 5K.
Jen: I did!
Caroline: How did that feel?
Jen: I learned the meaning of a runner’s high as I crossed that line. I’ve done a few other 5Ks since, but now it’s just leisure. It’s just a fun activity to get out and get some exercise. I’m certainly not breaking records. It’s a way to keep my body moving and a way to enjoy life and who I am and what I wanted to accomplish. It’s a reminder that I can set goals and accomplish them.
Caroline: And that’s what coaching is all about, bringing someone to that realization that they can do it. They can reach their goals. So, what sparked your road to Blue Line Coaching?
Jen: After the initial twelve week course, I was attending church locally and really understanding more of what coaching is in the self-help world. I was learning more about who I wanted to be and grow into. A member of our church, a gentleman by the name of Paul Hackett, had sent me a Facebook message. “I’ve been seeing your posts. You’re a super positive person. I’m putting together a coach certification class and was wondering if you’d be interested in taking it.”
Now, I never met Paul face-to-face; I knew of him in the church community. So, the funny story is that he said, “Yeah, we’re starting on this date and time at my house. So, if you’re interested, come on by.” I sent a text to my husband with the address just in case I didn’t know what I was walking into at this strange man’s house. Life changing.
That was a nine month course that I enjoyed every moment of. To think now, how much that time with Paul and his wife and a couple other ladies from our church, learning how to coach… Again, life changing for me. Paul used a number of different modalities for our training in those nine months. When I graduated, I got my little certificate hanging on my wall. I was so proud.
Then I sat on it for a while. What was I going to do with it? Again, rebuilding our family, Kevin being home, learning how to navigate his medical retirement… It took two years of a process to get him medically retired. [We were] settling into the new norm of our family life.
So, I wanted to just start coaching locally some law-enforcement spouses since that was my purview. I knew I could connect to law enforcement spouses. I was coaching a woman – again, locally – who owned her own public relations firm. She said, “Jen, this is a phenomenal tool. We need to get this out for the world to know and understand.” So, she created a press release for me and officially launched Blue Line Coaching on Valentine’s Day of 2021.
Just last year, Blue Line Coaching was established. I connected with the National Police Wives Association – phenomenal human beings. They found a need in the Capitol Police spouses. In fact, they had put together a spousal support group. They were looking for some leadership and structure in order to help them move through the challenges that they were facing after the January events. So, I came in and did some group coaching with the Capitol Police spouses. A number of them said, “Jen this is phenomenal. How can we do this? What can we do to help support our community better and more?”
So, I went back to Paul and asked him to put together a coach certification course for Blue Line. We started putting some pieces together, basic business development, business plans and modeling. He created the course. We had a number of ladies take the course. They started coaching locally in the DC area.
Then, unfortunately, an incident occurred in the fire department of one of their local areas and the captain had been killed in the line of duty. The fire chief reached out to one of our Blue Line coaches. He said, “Hey, I know that you’re supporting the blue line. Would it be possible for you to come speak with some of the spouses here and some of the guys in the firehouse?”
Immediately there was a realization that coaching is not something just for spouses of law enforcement. [We recognized] that our entire first responder community is experiencing trauma in ways that they are not processing well. The mental health concerns of this population and their family members is something that hasn’t been addressed in a way that needs to be in order to support them through their career.
Yes, we’ve got the establishment of critical thinking stress management. Yes, we’ve got the establishment of peer support teams. Those are great, like Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Those are all good opportunities in order to get support; however, most of them are in the crisis moment. You only turn to EAP when it’s really bad, after a divorce or suicidal ideation or a crisis has already started occurring.
Caroline: They’re already off the shift by the time they’re doing that.
Jen: Thank you. There’s no safety net before that happens. I believe strongly that through coaching – and in the transition from Blue Line to First Responder Coaching – we’re creating that safety net, that proactive piece. The guys will tell you, “Oh I’m good. I’m fine. Nothing’s bothering me.” Ten, twelve, fifteen years in too. It’s the suck-it-up-buttercup mentality. Really, when it comes down to it, that is the best time to start having coaching conversations.
What’s going well now? How can we make sure that when crisis or trauma occurs, when you experience something really challenging – whether it’s in your marriage or on your job – you’re able to use those skills that you created now to help you move through those challenging times instead of turning to the bottle or other people or whatever those negative coping strategies might look like. We believe very firmly that coaching is that approach, a different modality than any other therapy (crisis, peer support, network).
And one size doesn’t fit all. So, coaching might not necessarily be for everyone, but to have a basis of a coaching experience can absolutely open doors to building the resilience necessary to move through those challenges.
Caroline: Definitely. Now, you went from Blue Line Coaching to First Responder Coaching. Now we’re a little over a year that it’s been FRC, correct?
Caroline: What does this mean for you having something that started off with just a few Capitol Police wives and now it’s blown up across the country? You have connections all the way to California, and departments are signing on and doing all these things. What does this mean for you?
Jen: It means that FRC is growing in ways that are so much beyond the individual. Having an idea in my head two and a half years ago that this might be something to bring to this community… Recognizing that there was an absolute need for something else within this community, and now seeing those pieces come to fruition… It’s so humbling and I’m so honored.
I go back to those words all the time. Now that, as founder/CEO, I’m watching the network grow. We’ve got forty plus coaches across the country, departments from across the country bringing coaching into their departments, conversations at the federal level that I’m having… It’s mind-blowing to think about where we’ve come from and where we’re going to next.
It’s so much bigger than just me and it’s gratifying and it’s really cool. And it’s really neat to say I’ve brought something to the world, I’ve contributed to the world that our first responders and their family members are experiencing such positive results from. Just so gratifying.
Caroline: That’s so awesome. We all see how First Responder Coaching has done so much for so many lives. Coaching is just like you said, a different modality that changes perspectives, builds resilience, and it comes from inside the person receiving the coaching. It’s so different from therapy or mentorship. The answers aren’t coming from a third party; they’re coming from the person who’s looking for them.
It makes me think of the old adage: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime. Coaching is teaching people to fish from within themselves and find new ideas and new perspectives to help them thrive in the ways that they want to thrive.
In the first responder world where we’re doing, as you said before, an inhuman job, we need it.
Jen: Yes, our bodies, our brains are taking in so much information. As human beings, we need to recognize that. We have emotions and feelings and experiences that are going to affect us. Period. They’re going to affect us. So, how do we make sure that those things we’re experiencing are affecting us in ways that we can move through and still be true to who we are, still be productive members of society, and be present. We want to be in the moment with our families.
They say to leave the job at the door. Well, that’s so impossible because of those experiences. We’re seeing things. It’s impossible to truly leave the job at the door. How can we best support this community in ways that, as they’re bringing their job through the door, they’re not ruining the lives of those around them or ruining their own lives.
Caroline: Because someone else’s worst day is how our first responders get paid. It’s crazy to think about. Someone has to have a really bad day in order for them to be able to do their job. That’s not a nice human way to live. We’re not designed for tragedy; we’re designed for goodness. That’s how our bodies and our minds and our souls are designed. So, yes, we need so much support in that area. You have done an amazing job with First Responder Coaching, before that, Blue Line Coaching. You never know where things are going to take you and every time an opportunity comes to you. And you have just jumped at it in the right ways. It’s been amazing.
Jen: Thank you.
Caroline: I want to thank you for all that you’ve done. I know that a lot of amazing people have been placed in your life and you’ve recognized them. So, thank you for recognizing them because they have helped build all of this. I always say that as people get bigger, stay humble. You do that; you’re good at that. You always give credit where credit is due and I think that’s wonderful. This could have gone in so many different directions but I think everything is building at the right pace. It’s going really well.
Jen: Thank you, it is.
Caroline: Do you have any final words in this Spotlight?
Jen: As you mentioned, I feel very strongly that I’m in the right place at the right time and with the right people. I’ve surrounded myself with the right people that I know I need, that FRC needs to continue to build into the next years and create a legacy of changing people’s lives, changing the culture of our first responder community. I absolutely would never have been able to do it alone. I’m so grateful for the community of people that are supporting FRC that are building it far beyond my wildest dreams.
Caroline: Right? If someone told you three years ago that you were going to own a national company…
Jen: International! We’re in Canada!
Caroline: Oh, international!
Jen: I just never imagined. And it just wouldn’t have been possible without everyone supporting me along the way.
Caroline: Absolutely. Do you have any FRC news you want to mention here?
Jen: So, keep an eye out for our podcast. We will be launching that. I’m recording the first episode with Keith. Also, we’re launching an Atomic Habits program and I’m really excited to be sharing that. I’m just looking forward to connecting with larger departments and organizations across the country this next year. I’m looking forward to really making a name not just for FRC but creating that culture of coaching and understanding and making lives better through coaching. Thank you, Caroline, I appreciate it.
Caroline: Absolutely. I ordered my Atomic Habits book as well. Thank you, Jen, for being in the Spotlight this month. I also want to thank all the FRC people that help support this amazing project. It is one gigantic project. We are working to make lives better in the first responder community, and, therefore, lives better in the rest of the community.
Jen: Thank you!
Caroline: Our FRC podcast, The Resilient Responder, hosted by Keith Hanks, can be found on Keith’s page for now. We will update it to our FRC YouTube page soon. Atomic Habits begins on January 8th. First responders and family members can register here.