COLUMBUS – Leaving children behind is especially difficult for families of National Guard and Reserve members.
Their military obligations usually disrupt their everyday lives only one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer.
To recognize the sacrifices of these suddenly military children, Operation: Military Kids is offering Hero Packs to children and teens whose parents are about to be deployed overseas in the National Guard.
Staying connected. Hero Packs are backpacks specially designed for the Operation: Military Kids program.
They contain items designed to help children and teens deal with stress associated with a parent being away from home, and other items to help them keep connected with their deployed parent or parents.
Hero Packs are funded by Operation: Military Kids, a federal program launched in April targeting 20 states with high deployment rates.
Link with Ohio 4-H. Ohio received a $70,000 grant, with funding provided by the USDA’s Army Youth Development Project and U.S. Army Child and Youth Services, said Theresa Ferrari, Ohio State University Extension specialist and Ohio 4-H military liaison for the project.
Ohio has material for 500 packs, and has ordered materials for 200 more. The first packs in Ohio were assembled June 1, by 12 4-H State Ambassadors and Ohio’s First Lady, Hope Taft.
“We wanted to help the 4-H’ers understand what a suddenly military kid goes through,” Ferrari said.
What’s unique for the recipients is that other children are making these packs, they’re not just throwing things into them, said Sue Ann Carroll, the state youth coordinator for the Ohio National Guard.
They are really thinking about who will receive the backpack, and writing a letter to them, thanking them for their sacrifice, she said.
Carroll, whose husband also was deployed, said the packs should help ease the stress children face when parents must leave home.
4-H as a bridge. Jessi Yoho, 16, of Little Hocking, Ohio, was invited by Keith Smith, Extension director, to take part in the event with the Ohio’s First Lady.
Yoho said her favorite part of the pack as the book about a raccoon family who is facing separation and the hand puppet that came with it.
4-H is a big part of her life and Yoho said she hopes the youth receiving the packs will want to find out more about 4-H and get involved.
“This is a good chance to teach them about 4-H and the support system it can provide,” she added.
Kids helping kids. At the meeting with Hope Taft, 4-H representatives from around Ohio learned about Operation: Military Kids and talked about ways to get counties involved in making the packs, said Sara Phares, a state ambassador from Stark County.
Her favorite part of the pack was the stationary and stamps the children will receive, she said. It will make it easy for them to stay in contact with their friends and family.
“The letters we wrote reassured the kids they had our support,” said 17-year-old Phares.
Most of the Hero Packs are being assembled by 4-H clubs across Ohio as a community service project, under Dona Leonhard’s coordination.
Leonhard is a graduate associate with Ohio 4-H Youth Development and Operation: Military Kids.
The first 50 packs were distributed in Ohio June 25-26, during family pre-deployment briefings for Army National Guard units in Kettering and Bellefontaine, Ohio, and an Air National Guard unit in Springfield.
The next distribution of packs will be in September, with an engineering unit in Columbus, Leonhard said.
In Washington County, 4-H’ers put Hero Packs together at their small project fair while the youth waited for their projects to be judged.
Packs will also be assembled at state ambassador meetings and at the state fair, Phares said.
So far, 4-H clubs in Delaware, Fairfield, Hamilton, Hardin, Morrow, Cuyahoga and Washington counties have assembled packs.
Including the packs assembled at Operation Purple Camp, there have been 460 packs assembled in Ohio.
Operation Purple Camp was July 24-26, for youth 9-15 who have deployed parents.
They had the option of making packs for other children or taking it home for themselves or a sibling.
Ferrari is also talking with representatives of the Reserve and hopes to expand the Operation: Military Kids initiative to their families soon.
(Editorial intern Katy Wuthrick can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
Hero Packs include:
* A custom-made backpack
* A disposable camera, which children are encouraged to use to take pictures of themselves to send to their deployed parent.
* Stationery and envelopes to write letters to the parent.
* For younger recipients, a story book called The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, about a raccoon family facing a separation, and a raccoon hand puppet.
* A day planner that can be used as a journal, which could be shared with the deployed parent when he or she returns home.
* A 4-H stuffed bear, bandana, cap or other 4-H items.
* A letter from the 4-H member assembling the pack, thanking the recipient for the sacrifice they and their family members are making.
* A “parent pouch” with information on available support services.