Elena Ashburn and Matthew Oh are the co-founders of Bloom, a platform designed to empower and inspire military teens. Born into the Army lifestyle, they have each moved countless times and have experienced the struggles of military life.
"The two met during their freshman year of high school in Pennsylvania and were inseparable. Elena is currently stationed in Florida and is an active member of her school’s theater program and a Founding Fellow of Civics Unplugged.
Matthew is stationed in South Korea and is heavily involved in his school’s music programs. Although now living on two separate continents, Elena and Matthew continue to collaborate creatively as they enter their junior year." (Bloom)
1) We are so excited to have you as our guest for Sunday Spotlight: Military Child Edition. What is the main mission and focus of Bloom: Empowering the Military Teen? How did your platform get its start?
Elena: Bloom’s mission is to inform and empower military teens worldwide. It is a website where military kids can read articles, submit art, and feel inspired by their community. The idea of Bloom came to me after a really tough move. After months of crying, I realized that I wanted to help other military kids cope with the crazy things we have to go through.
Matthew: Elena and I tossed a bunch of ideas around with other friends for projects we could do together to help people in our situation. At one point, we were even writing a musical about military brats (we never really got this off the ground, but hopefully you’ll see us on Broadway someday).
Elena: We finally landed on the concept of Bloom in early 2020, and we hit the ground running immediately. We spent countless weeks designing the website, recruiting an amazing team of writers, and creating social media accounts. We launched the site in April, and it has grown so much since then, reaching tens of thousands of people.
2) What types of outreach and advocacy have you done so far for military teens?
Matthew: Our biggest outreach and advocacy is through our blog. We pride ourselves in having a diverse team of writers (also military teens) who share their personal stories and advice and recognize that through the simple act of storytelling, we can show our peers that they are truly not alone in their experiences. While our articles are mainly geared toward military children, we also hope that if parents or non-military peers read them, they can further understand the struggles we go through.
Elena: Agreed. Many of our articles deal with important topics like mental health, coping with the deployment of a parent, and the stress of moving. By addressing topics that aren’t typically addressed in military families, we hope to inspire other military brats to open up and start conversations within their families and communities.
3) How have you involved teens in giving support to their peers?
Elena: We have a staff of over 25 military teens who regularly contribute to our site. They come from all walks of life, and they are very passionate about helping other military brats. It has truly been a gift to watch them all BLOOM into advocates and active members of the military community.
Matthew: We also encourage our readers to express themselves in the form of writing and art. Bloom accepts articles from guest writers and showcases artwork in our Creator Spotlight. We also showcase viewer input in our PCS Profiles video series, which showcases teen-relevant information about different duty stations, since no one knows a location better than the people who have lived there.
4) If a military teen or family member wants to get involved with your platform, where can
they find you online?
Matthew: We have numerous ways for teens to get involved! Our website is www.bloommilitaryteens.org, and we encourage writers to send us their personal stories,
advice, and experiences to share with our community. We also have a Creator Spotlight, where we feature artwork, poetry, and media productions. People can connect with us on social media on our Instagram and Facebook (@bloommilitaryteens).
Elena:: They can also check out our YouTube (Bloom: Empowering the Military Teen) to find our episodes of PCS Profiles, a series where we give you the run-down about duty stations stateside and overseas!
5) Lastly, what is one piece of advice you have for teens in military families?
Elena: Reach out to your other military friends, especially now during COVID-19. We all know that military life isn’t easy, and sometimes we just need an understanding shoulder to lean on when we are struggling. And if you are struggling, that is okay! This lifestyle is not easy, and it is totally normal to grieve.
Matthew: Military teens, you are not alone. There are thousands of people in your shoes all across the globe who have gone through the same struggles you have. Our lives aren’t easy, but our experiences ultimately make us better people.