ACA's "Operation Summer Camp" Gives Military Children the Gift of Camp



 When one or both parents are deployed, families are turned upside-down. Logistically, financially, emotionally – the challenges are sudden and dramatic.
 
Since 2003, an innovative program called Operation Summer Camp (OSC) has helped Pennsylvania families meet some of those challenges by sending about 150 military kids to camp, tuition free. Launched by the nonprofit American Camp Association (ACA) Keystone Section, serving camps and families in Pennsylvania and Delaware, OSC matches military children with one to seven-week "camperships" donated by day and overnight camps across the state. Together, ACA camps have donated more than $400,000 in total camperships.
 
OSC started as a quick response to an immediate need, says ACA Keystone president Cheryl Magen. "When one or both parents are deployed, families can lose income, childcare, and stability."
 
ACA approached the PA Air National Guard's 111th Fighter Wing to help match children to camperships. When Tech. Sgt. Maureen Mowers was deployed for basic training, her two sons spent the summer at Camp Kweebec. 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 appreciation, he presented the camp with an American flag that he flew over Iraq.
 
After OSC was recognized by the Pentagon as an outstanding program, ACA took steps to expand the program in Pennsylvania and across the country. "Building relationships with different military units is a slow process, and the economy has had an impact on camperships. But each summer we try to help as many children as we can," Magen says.
 
In western Pennsylvania, OSC is now offered to Air National Guard families through the 171st Air Refueling Wing's Family Readiness Coordinator, Deborah Krall. Hoping to work with more branches of the armed forces as the program grows, Magen advises parents in other military units to ask their family services office to contact ACA .
 
Jean Moretti, Family Readiness Coordinator at the 111th Fighter Wing, says that OSC gives children a chance to play and live like other children, away from the constant worry and uncertainty 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.
 

To learn more about Operation Summer Camp, contact ACA Keystone Section at 888-917-2267 or executive@acakeystone.org.

 Ellen Warren writes for the American Camp Association and coordinates Operation Summer Camp.