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Special summer programs step up to the plate

 

When one or both parents are deployed, families are turned upside-down. Logistically, financially, emotionally – the challenges are sudden and dramatic. Since 2003, a philanthropic program called Operation Summer Camp™ (OSC) has helped some of Pennsylvania's military families face those challenges by sending about 150 kids to camp, tuition free.

 

The program launched by the nonprofit American Camp Association (ACA) Keystone Section and the regional ACA office in Pennsylvania and Delaware, OSC matches military children with one to seven-week “camperships” donated by day and overnight camps. Together, ACA member camps have donated nearly $400,000 in total camperships. OSC started as a quick response to an immediate need, says ACA Keystone president Cheryl Magen. “When parents are deployed, families can lose income, childcare, and stability.”

 

ACA Keystone first approached the PA Air National Guard’s 111th Fighter Wing to find families that might need camperships. Through OSC, Tech. Sgt. Maureen Mowers’ two sons spent the summer at Camp Kweebec in Bala Cynwyd, PA.  While she was deployed for basic training, the boys enjoyed their first overnight camp experience, and Mowers knew they were safe and happy. Mowers says, “It’s very generous of the camps to provide family support. I’m glad the children have had the opportunity to experience camp.”

 

Unlike other week-long camp programs exclusively for military children, OSC allows a child to experience a traditional camp program with non-military kids. Lt. Col. Scott Hreso, a fighter pilot for 30 years and a single father of four, said that Operation Summer Camp enabled his 15-year old daughter to attend International Gymnastics Camp, where she “made a lot of friends, improved her technical cheerleading skills, and got a real morale boost.”

 

Hreso’s children have lived through his deployments many times. “Because she was with other, non-military kids, camp was a good way for my daughter to forget about her family problems, learn a lot, and feel like a regular kid,” says Hreso.

 

In its first year, OSC was recognized by the Pentagon as an outstanding program. ACA Keystone hopes that as more ACA regional offices partner with other armed forces units around the country, the program will grow to serve more military children.

 

To launch OSC in other states, Magen advises military parents to ask their unit's Family Readiness or Youth Services coordinator to contact the ACA regional office serving their state. Jean Moretti, Family Readiness Coordinator for the 111th Fighter Wing, says that OSC gives children a chance to play and live like other children, away from the constant worry that comes with active military parents. “Military family children would never have had these opportunities if it wasn't for the generosity of the ACA member camps,” says Moretti.

 

These camp programs offer children a way to relax and enjoy their summer without worrying about the harsh realities of separation anxiety that can often occur among children in military families.

 

Here is where you can find out about programs like this in NY.

 

Ellen Warren coordinates Operation Summer Camp for the American Camp Association Keystone Section. For more information call 888-917-2267.