June 17, 2009

Kentucky National Guardsman Robert Wainscott readies for the zip line.
Kentucky National Guardsman Robert Wainscott readies for the zip line.
More than 40 U.S. military families spent quality time together during recent Operation Military Kids Camps. Members of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service hosted the camps at Lake Cumberland 4-H Camp and West Kentucky 4-H Camp. 

Kentucky National Guardsman Robert Wainscott and his wife, Lindsey, of Nicholasville said the camp provided a great opportunity for family summertime fun and a chance to celebrate two of their children's birthdays.

"It's a chance for the family to be together outside of normal work and everything else," he said.

Kerri Ashurst, UK family and consumer sciences extension specialist, administers the grant-funded program that strives to raise public awareness about issues and challenges children of military servicemen and women face, especially those with a family member deployed.

The Operation Military Kids program has been in the state for several years under Kentucky 4-H, but Ashurst recently took it over. She received an additional grant for the camps and saw them as an ideal opportunity to involve each member of a military family in Operation Military Kids.

"Our biggest goal when we wrote the grant to do these camps was to provide an opportunity where the whole family could come together and have a healing family weekend and spend quality time together," she said.

Campers spent an entire weekend engaging in a variety of indoor and outdoor activities including canoeing, bread making, tie-dying, high and low ropes courses, swimming and nature activities.  Families stayed in cabins onsite and ate at the camps' dining halls.

Army service member Robert Pinkney of Fort Thomas and his family board a canoe at Lake Cumberland.The camps were provided free of charge to all families, including the cabins and all meals. The only requirements were for families to have an active-duty, National Guard or Reserve service member in any branch of the military and be stationed or live in Kentucky.

"I think they appreciate the family bonding time," said Tyrone Atkinson, state coordinator for the Operation: Military Kids grant. "We have families with members returning from deployments, and this is their first step to getting reunited with their family."

"People have really enjoyed it," said Stephanie Moses, Operation: Military Kids Camp coordinator. "We've gotten a lot of e-mails from our last camp letting us know how much they enjoyed it."

Not only did the camp provide quality time for service families but it also was a special weekend for those who volunteered their time at the camp, including Alice Brewer, an Operation Military Kids committee member from Hardin County.

"My dad was in the Army, and I had a lot of experience with Fort Knox. This is just one way I thought I could give back for all the great things that these people are doing as families. Not only the military person, but the family has to sacrifice," she said.

In addition to the camps, the Operation Military Kids grant provides training and presentations across the state for those who work with military personnel either through volunteering, extension or on a military base. They also give Hero Packs, backpacks filled with a variety of items including games, journals and toys, to children who have a deployed family member. In addition, they have a Speak Out for Military Kids program for older youth in which they can educate others about issues, stresses and challenges that affect military children. Also, a Mobile Technology Lab is available for loan across the state for programs or events involving military children and families.  More information on the Kentucky Operation Military Kids program and upcoming events can be found under state information on the program's national Web site at http://www.operationmilitarykids.org.

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