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University, student organization builds community for military families

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Campers make a flag to celebrate Team USA for the Summer Olympics. Credit: Courtesy of Theresa Ferrari

Campers make a flag to celebrate Team USA for the Summer Olympics. Credit: Courtesy of Theresa Ferrari

Military deployment has always affected service members’ families, and deployment in the age of the War on Terror has proved no different, especially for children.

Ohio Military Kids is an organization that works with children whose parents have been deployed or are currently serving in active duty. The group’s mission is to support children of deployed service members through educational, social and recreational programs.

The program began in 2005, in response to the sudden rise in military families arising from U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.Ohio Military Kids also works closely with the Ohio National Guard and services children of the Guard, but programming is open to children from all branches of the military.

Ohio Military Kids is run through the Youth Development program which is affiliated with Ohio 4-H and is apart of the Ohio State University Extension. In addition to helping with military families, Ohio 4-H is involved in other spectrums of community development such as agriculture in rural cities.

Theresa Ferrari, an associate professor of the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Science and a 4-H youth development specialist who works with Ohio Military Kids, said the program’s main goal is creating a community for kids of military families that they might not otherwise have.

“At the very essence of it, it’s bringing kids together who share a common experience,” Ferrari said. “These kids often feel like they’re the only one in that situation, but they’re really not.”

Buckeyes for Ohio Military Kids is a club for OSU students that volunteers with Ohio Military Kids. The group helps run events for Ohio Military Kids and raises support for the program. Monica Sarp, a second-year in health sciences and president of Buckeyes for Military Kids, said that volunteering is a way to help families through fun.

“I think because it really makes an impact on the kids, it really helps them, even just for a day,” Sarp said. “I don’t think a lot of people think about when parents get deployed and how it affects their kids. If we can just help these kids have fun, even just for a day, then it’s worth it. It goes a long way.”

Ohio Military Kids hosts a number of activities and programs year-round for the youths and their families, including sports camps with OSU athletes, seasonal day trips and overnight family camps. The program’s main attraction, however, is its annual summer camp

Camp Kelleys Island is a five-day summer camp for kids aged 9 through 15, held on Kelleys Island, an island on Lake Erie. Ferrari said that while the camp might not be too different from other summer camps, Ohio Military Kids makes the campers’ experience special.

“If you came to camp and looked around, you would not necessarily know it was for military kids,” Ferrari said. “It’s basically like any other camp for kids, except for a small percentage of the activities we call the ‘military culture’ flavor.”

The camp’s schedule includes typical summer activities like obstacle courses, crafts and swimming, but also incorporates activities fitting to its military roots, such as demos from Navy SEALs and helicopter landings in the middle of camp.

Staff members include active and retired members of the military, who volunteer as nurses and camp supervisors, and former campers who now work as counselors. Members of the Ohio National Guard and other service members often visit camp during the week to meet campers and participate in activities.

“Not too many 9-year-olds get to meet a general, but (past campers have met) several generals over the years who have come to camp,” Ferrari said.

Ferrari said that this year’s camp stuck out to her in a way that most year’s sessions have not.

“Our oldest campers are 15, they were all born afterwards, they don’t know a life other than a post-9/11 world,” Ferrari said. “Some of their parents probably even signed on after 9/11. It makes you pause and think about what that means to families and the resilience that they have. That’s what you see in these kids.”

The Engaged Scholars logo accompanies stories that feature and examine research and teaching partnerships formed between the Ohio State University and the community (local, state, national and global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. These stories spring from a partnership with OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The Lantern retains sole editorial control over the selection, writing and editing of these stories.

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