“Sign us up!” my kids commanded after receiving mail from YMCA’s Camp Carson. Normally, I’d be put off by such demands, but this is one I’m happy to give in to.
This will be the fifth year I send my oldest to Operation Military Support week, and it will be my son’s first year now that he is old enough. We get newsletters and updates from the camp at least once a year. And my daughter always receives a birthday card in May often signed by her counselors. We even got mail from the YMCA Camp Carson three months after a permanent change of station to England.
Today, though … today they have their invitation to summer camp in hand, and they are ready to go!
Mark Scholar, the Executive Director for YMCA Camp Carson, in Princeton, Indiana, is great at keeping parents informed about registration dates and opportunities for all campers. He and his staff, along with the help of volunteers, work throughout the year to enhance and update the camp with new buildings, programs and activities. They also keep us informed about returning staff members, family weekends and special camps for military families.
All the camps at YMCA’s Camp Carson work to build friendships and encourage campers to take on new challenges. Even the youngest of campers are encouraged to exhibit their own decision-making skills by setting some of their own activities and weekly goals. Campers enjoy activities like zooming on the Zipline over the lake, being tossed on the Blob, riding horses, sculpting pottery, making friendship bracelets, hitting a target in archery, dirt bike racing and more.
Camp Corral is a specially designed weeklong camp for kids ages eight to 15, whose service member has been injured, wounded or is disabled as a result of service or fallen in action. Children of veterans also are welcome, but priority is given to those with special circumstances. The mission of Camp Corral is to transform and enrich these children’s lives through unique summer camp experiences; giving military kids the opportunity to build up their self-confidence and resilience in a positive, fun and emotionally rewarding environment.
I choose to send my kids to Operation Military Support week, because it is a weeklong camp designed like a traditional summer camp, but with additional military-related activities and opportunities to discuss their shared experiences.
Military kids understand the burdens of deployed parents, frequently moving states/schools, making new friends at new duty locations and leaving friends at old duty locations. These camps allow them to bond and learn coping skills from others who know that service and sacrifices are not just paid by the service men and women, but their families as well. This particular week at camp is made less expensive through the help of donations and subsidies, so even if you think you can’t afford summer camp, think again!
Organizations like National Military Family Association (NMFA), also drastically reduce the cost of camp – sometimes saving families 100% of camp fees!
Through NMFA’s Operation Purple Camp program, nearly 60,000 military kids have received a weeklong summer camp for free since its inception in 2004. Half of those military kids had parents deployed or deploying and nearly 1,000 of those campers were children of wounded, ill and injured veterans. Through this program, payment plans and subsidized rates offered by each individual camp, the NMFA along with organizations like the YMCA provide military children a week of camp at half to no cost to the parents. What a gift to those children who unwittingly serve by sacrificing many months with their frequently deployed loved ones–often missing birthdays, holidays, ball games, dance recitals, and more.
The National Military Family Association partners with these camps because they see the benefits for military children. They support family re-connection, provide a relaxing outdoor environment, encourage children to “unplug” from technology, create a support network for veterans and their families and allow those in similar life stages to connect with someone they never would have known otherwise. Camp is a place where kids can feel accepted, challenged and empowered. In 2016, Operation Purple Camp offered 31 weeks of camp at 25 different locations.
One of those locations is the YMCA Camp Carson in Princeton, Indiana, which just happens to be my hometown. At the age of seven, my oldest daughter attended Operation Military Support Week for the first time. My husband was deployed to South Korea. He was gone for 13 months. Having three other children under the age of three, my oldest was often the last one to get attention – typically helping me entertain her 3-year-old brother while I tended to the 1-year-old twins. She became a little mother hen, but even I know that every mother needs a break now and then – a time to let loose and have fun. I was so glad she had the opportunity to go to camp, especially one that allowed her to connect to other military kids.
With her independent spirit and love of nature, I knew she would thrive. And she did!
That summer, she enjoyed horseback riding, fishing and a mud hike. She got dirty, received an award for running the morning fog jog every day, and made new friends. She must have had some incredible experiences because she has been eager to go back year after year. In 2014, she went back to a summer camp free-of-charge, thanks to her father’s service in South Korea on behalf of the United States Air Force and the NMFA’s Operation Purple Camp program.
Years later her excitement for camp has only grown stronger and transferred to my son. They love camp as much as they love Christmas! Although camp is many months away, my kids couldn’t be more excited about it even if they were packing their bags. That’s the great thing about camp: It’s a fun vacation just for kids who like to play outside! Equally exciting and nerve-wrecking for both parents and children, everyone knows that they will come home changed with stories to share, insight they learned and an opportunity to connect with a kid like them – a military kid.
Do you know kids who serve? Would you send them to a Military Kid’s Camp? Take a look at some of the camps offered in your local area and see what programs they have to offer. A weeklong summer camp may be more affordable than you think and will certainly be more rewarding than your kids could imagine!