KELLEYS ISLAND, Ohio -- As U.S. military involvement increasingly shifts from Iraq to Afghanistan, thousands of troops are still being deployed overseas to serve their country -- and often leave children behind.
Supporting those children is the motive behind the "Operation: Military Kids" (OMK) Camp at Lake Erie's Kelleys Island. Now in its seventh year, the camp will be held Aug. 8-12.
As they have done in previous years, organizers are coordinating two camps to be held simultaneously to accommodate 277 campers. The Junior Camp, for youths 9 to 11, will be held at the Erie County 4-H Camp; the Teen Camp, for youths 12 to 15 years old, will be held at Camp Patmos, just east of the 4-H camp.
The camp is a joint effort of OMK, Ohio State University Extension's 4-H Youth Development program and the Ohio National Guard.
Brett zumFelde, program manager for OMK for Ohio 4-H, said of this year's campers:
- 27 have parents currently deployed.
- 70 have parents preparing for deployment.
- 138 have parents recently returned from deployment.
"There is a great benefit to bringing these kids together from all parts of the state," zumFelde said. "Where some kids have gone through it, some are currently going through it and some will soon -- they are able to talk and help each other through this particular family challenge where perhaps kids in their neighborhood who don't have military parents might not be able to understand or relate.
"That is the real value of this type of camp," zumFelde said, "not to mention the other fun stuff and activities available in any camping situation."
Besides typical camp activities such as canoeing, swimming, crafts, teambuilding and campfires, program highlights include:
- "Military Moments" to discuss military culture and values, and issues related to deployment. These topics are geared to help the youths understand the military aspects of their parents' careers.
- Visits by senior military leaders, including one planned for Wednesday, Aug. 10, in a Chinook helicopter.
- Special activities with members of a Navy Special Warfare unit, the Ohio Army National Guard as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, who will be providing boat rides to the campers on Lake Erie.
- A community service project in cooperation with the state park just west of the 4-H camp in which the junior campers will participate in a park trash pick-up project and nature hike while the teen campers will do a beautification project in the downtown square.
Campers pay a registration fee of $50; the remaining funding is provided through grants and many generous donors, including the Ohio 4-H Foundation, the USO of Central Ohio, Wal-Mart, The American Legion of Ohio, Columbia Gas of Ohio, Check Smart Financial, Nucor Steel Marion, Inc., Leland Foundation, the Stanton Golf Classic and others.
Representatives of the media are welcome to visit the camp. To make arrangements or for a camp schedule or other information, contact:
Program Manager, Ohio Operation: Military Kids
Sue Ann Carroll
State Youth Coordinator, Ohio National Guard
Campers are from all over Ohio. Either zumFelde or Carroll can help media locate campers from local areas. About 50 campers, counselors and staff members are from the northwest Ohio area.
In addition, OMK is sponsoring three Troop and Family camps in August and September, designed for the whole family to spend the weekend together, zumFelde says. Troop and Family camps are planned for the weekends of Aug. 19 and Aug. 26 at Camp Patmos on Kelley's Island, and the weekend of Sept. 9 at YMCA Camp Kern near Oregonia, Ohio. Contact zumFelde for more information.
Note to media: Cell phone service on Kelleys Island can be spotty. As a backup, beginning Aug. 7, media may also try to reach zumFelde and/or Carroll by contacting the Kelleys Island 4-H Camp office at(camp director is Dale Lybarger) or, beginning Aug. 9, contacting the Camp Patmos office at 419-746-2214 (executive director is Tim Richardson).