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News Releases Archive (Prior to 2011)

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Ohio Programs Support 'Joining Forces' for Military Families

April 14, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, toured the country this week to kick off a new initiative, "Joining Forces," they said their goal was to mobilize support for "the extraordinary military families who sacrifice so much every day."

Their tour, which caps off in Columbus on Thursday afternoon, couldn't be more timely, said Theresa Ferrari, 4-H Youth Development Specialist for Ohio State University Extension. April 5 marked the sixth anniversary of "Operation: Military Kids" (OMK) programs in Ohio, and April is the Month of the Military Child, designated as such by the Department of Defense.

"Many people are not aware of Ohio’s military population," Ferrari said. "There are over 34,500 youth in military families in Ohio, but because the majority of Ohio's service members are members of the National Guard and Reserves, they live in communities throughout Ohio and are not as visible as they would be if they were located at military installations."

The Joining Forces initiative focuses on three areas: employment, to assist veterans as well as military spouses who move from one community to another because of military transfers; education, by working with schools to support children in military families and expand higher education opportunities; and wellness, which seeks to help military families who experience anxiety, isolation or other challenges when dealing with deployments, illness or injury, or frequent moves. 

Addressing the needs of Ohio’s military youth has been the focus of Operation: Military Kids since Ohio became part of this national initiative in 2005. Ferrari said that the goals of OMK, operated as part of OSU Extension’s 4-H Youth Development program, are right in line with the wellness portion of the new Joining Forces initiative. 

Brett zumFelde, OMK’s program manager, said the program works with the Ohio National Guard and other branches of the military in a number of ways to support military youth and families. They include:

  • Day camps and seminars, which are geared to help youths in military families build resiliency during their parent's deployment.
  • Speak Out for Military Kids, which is designed to give youths in military families a chance to voice their views on what it's like to grow up in a military family today.
  • Summer camps specifically for youths in military families. "These camps have become quite popular -- some already have waiting lists even though the summer is still months away," Ferrari said. "Unfortunately our funding can stretch only so far, and for the first time we may not be able to accommodate all who would like to participate." Details on the camps are online at In addition, Ferrari and Kirk Bloir, program director for OSU Extension's Family and Consumer Sciences program, recently received a grant for three new Adventure Camps for teens (ages 14 to 18) from military families, a seven-day wilderness backpacking adventure for 10 youths; a week-long adventure camp at Canter’s Cave for up to 70 youths; and a long-weekend special needs camp for up to 30 youths and their caregivers at Canter’s Cave. More information on these camps is available at

“Because our military population is so geographically dispersed, events like these provide a much-needed opportunity to connect with others experiencing the same situation,” zumFelde said. He emphasized that these programs would not be possible without support from volunteers and community partners such as the American Red Cross, USO of Central Ohio, as well as many generous individual and corporate donors.

In addition, since 2003, Ohio 4-H has hosted programming at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio's only active duty installation. County 4-H staff members work with Wright-Patt employees to reach nearly 300 youths a year as part of a project that has incorporated 4-H programs at Army, Air Force, and Navy installations worldwide. "This way, when families move -- as active-duty military families do -- the children in their families can continue their involvement in 4-H, offering some stability to the children and teens who are often uprooted," Ferrari said.

In a new effort, OSU Extension's Family and Consumer Sciences program is involved in a larger project, based at Purdue University, to mobilize the land-grant university system to assist military families in various ways across the country. In Ohio, educators developed "Operation MP3: Meal Planning and Preparation Program" to help military families improve cooking abilities, eat healthy home-prepared meals, and stretch their food dollar, Bloir said. The curriculum will include videos and print materials, and OSU Extension is developing a train-the-trainer program for in-person programs.

"This is exactly the type of support they're talking about with the Joining Forces initiative, and we're proud to be on the front lines with this kind of effort," Bloir said. "Military families sacrifice much more than most people ever know. It's great to be part of an effort to give something back."

Martha Filipic
Theresa Ferrari, Brett zumFelde, Kirk Bloir