Ohio programs support military families initiative

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COLUMBUS — First lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, toured the country recently to kick off a new initiative, Joining Forces. The goal is to mobilize support for military families

Their tour 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 programs in Ohio, and April was designated the Month of the Military Child 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.”

Focus

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, including:

• 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.

Information

Details on the camps are at http://operationmilitarykids.ohio4h.org/programs/camps.html.

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 www.ohio4h.org/adventurecamp.

Air Force base

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.

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.

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