'Operation: Military Kids' Brings Kids, Parents to Campus

July 29, 2010

Editor: August is Ohio Military Family Month, designated by the Ohio Legislature last year in honor of the contributions and sacrifices made by the spouses, children and other family members of the approximately 40,000 service members in Ohio. Ohio is home to more than 34,000 children in military families.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- "It makes them feel special for a day."

That's the power behind Operation: Military Kids "Hero Camps," day-long outings for children in military families, said Jennifer Douthwaite of West Liberty, at a July 27 camp at Ohio State University.

Douthwaite, a nurse in the National Guard, brought three of her children and three of their cousins to campus for the event, where about 65 children ages 5-12 spent the day doing athletic activities with 12 Ohio State lacrosse, soccer and track athletes. The children's parents were nearby in the university's Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center, where they attended a STRONG Family Workshop conducted by the Guard's Family Readiness Program.

"Especially if you're with the Guard or the Reserves, everyone is spread all over the state," said Douthwaite, whose husband, Capt. Jason Douthwaite, is on active duty as a logistician at Rickenbacker Air Force Base. He was deployed to Afghanistan in February 2009-February 2010. "Programs like this help you feel like you're not all on your own."

Ohio State University Extension's 4-H Youth Development program, the university's Department of Athletics and the Ohio National Guard sponsored the "Operation: Military Kids" (OMK) event.

"Events like this are important because they not only benefit the kids, but everyone involved -- from the student athletes who are working with the kids to Coach (Jim) Tressel (who spoke with the children and parents at lunch) -- becomes more aware of what the kids and the families of military personnel go through," said Brett zumFelde, OMK program manager with Ohio 4-H. "We have to build awareness. Kids go through a lot when parents are deployed. They need our support."

Ohio's OMK programming started in 2005, but this was the first time Ohio State's Department of Athletics has been involved, said Mark Wilson, the department's camps director.

"It looks like all the kids and our instructors are really enjoying themselves," Wilson said. "When you're a student-athlete at a Division 1 school, you work hard all year, so it's nice to kick back and have some fun with kids this age. And the kids are getting some good messages about exercise and diet. … And, it's good to partner with 4-H -- they're part of the university and practically right across the street, but I'd never even been in the 4-H building until yesterday."

A nationwide partnership between the military and 4-H, OMK is designed to create a community support network for children in military families, especially when a parent is deployed, said Theresa Ferrari, youth development specialist with OSU Extension and Ohio 4-H's official military liaison.

"The mission of 4-H -- and our reach across the nation, in every state, at land-grant universities and down to the county level -- is what really makes this work," Ferrari said. "Because we have a high number of Guard and Reserve populations, Ohio was one of the first states to become involved in OMK beyond the pilot project. Now it's across the country, so if a family moves from state to state, their children can still get involved in OMK programs. We offer some stability that way."

The July 27 Hero Camp was made possible through funding from USO of Central Ohio, the Governor’s Officer of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and Sodexo, which donated the food for the event.

Now, Ferrari and zumFelde along with their military counterparts are busy preparing for two OMK camps on Kelleys Island, to be held on Aug. 9-13 at Kelleys Island 4-H Camp for youths ages 9-11 and at the nearby Camp Patmos for teens ages 12-15.

"We've gone from an original count of 81 campers at a single weekend camp in 2005 to running two simultaneous camps for five days of 130 each," zumFelde said. "Needless to say, our OMK camp is growing by leaps and bounds."

ZumFelde, who has been with Ohio's OMK program since March, also has been working with youths in OMK's "Speak Out for Military Kids" program, in which children in military families talk about their experiences of living in a military family. He records their thoughts and shares them through a YouTube channel with other children of military families.

"Talking about it helps them deal with it," zumFelde said. "And seeing other children going through the same types of things helps them know they aren't alone. They may never see each other in person -- or maybe they will meet at an OMK camp -- but it helps."

For more information on Ohio 4-H and OMK, contact zumFelde at zumfelde.3@cfaes.osu.edu or 614-292-3758.

Ohio 4-H is the youth development arm of Ohio State University Extension, which is the outreach arm of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

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Captions: Participants of the July 27 Hero Camp pose for a group photo during lunchtime activities with Brutus Buckeye, Ohio State cheerleaders, and Coach Jim Tressel. (Photo credit: Brett Rybak, Ohio State Athletics Communications)

Jennifer Douthwaite, her three children, two nieces and a nephew, take a break from the soccer, lacrosse and track activities during the July 28 "Hero Camp" sponsored by Operation: Military Kids. (Photo credit: Ken Chamberlain, Ohio State University Extension)

Brett zumFelde and Theresa Ferrari of OSU Extension's 4-H program work with partners in the Ohio National Guard's Family Readiness Program to provide activities, such as the July 27 Hero Camp, for children in Ohio's military families. (Photo credit: Ken Chamberlain, Ohio State University Extension)

Editor: For high-resolution versions of these photos, contact Martha Filipic at filipic.3@cfaes.osu.edu.

Author(s): 
Martha Filipic
Source(s): 
Mark Wilson