Author, comedian helps children cope with military life
March 10, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Trevor Romain knows the recipe to effectively communicate with children: a cup of silliness, a pinch of young-at-heart, and a whole lot of sharing.
As his business partner, Woody Englander, would say, he has the ability to create a safe environment where children feel like they can share their personal feelings and stories.
Romain, who served in the South African army, said he first realized he wanted to give back to children while on a military mission, where he found himself carrying a boy who had lost his legs in a landmine explosion.
"I put my arms around him and he put his arms around me; I've never been held so tightly in my life. He put his head against my face and he started to cry. His tears ran down my shirt and touched my heart," Romain said, adding that more than 20 years later he still hears that boy's voice in his head.
So, he began the Trevor Romain Company, which he launched through the publication of a series of self-help books for children. Next, the company turned the literature into a television series.
After that, he began volunteering with the USO, which began when he posed the question: "Who does anything for school age children at the USO'" When he was told "nobody," he decided to gear his show toward military children, ages 6 to 12.
The Trevor Romain "With You All the Way" tour, which stopped at Fort Drum on Thursday, is a partnership between the Trevor Romain Company and the USO.
Romain previously appeared on several USO tours, but this is the first time he's had his own "full-blown, yearlong tour," in order to reach about 40,000 military children. The tour began last fall, and when it concludes this, spring, Romain and his gang will have visited about 20 installations and bases.
The tour generally stops at school facilities, but since Fort Drum does not have schools on post, the event was held at the Multipurpose Auditorium.
"We go around helping kids and Families whose parents are deployed with military issues (such as) bullying, moving, being the new kid in school," Englander explained.
Romain is accompanied by Stephanie Pridell, a social worker who grew up in an Air Force household and went to non-military schools, and Englander, whose father-in-law died during the Vietnam War. All believe that because of their diverse military backgrounds, they're able to bring very different attributes to the tour.
"They're not concerned with the numbers that are in the audience, it's about reaching the child, one at a time. I thought that was very poignant because Aca,!A| they're genuinely concerned about our military children," said Karen Clark, Fort Drum USO director, who said the project helps give children moral guidelines.
The crew is able to determine common issues by speaking to children, and they have found children's problems are universal.
"What we're really doing is giving (children) tools to navigate what they go through on a daily basis, and thatAca,!a,,cs everything from moving to bullying, to just how to take care of (their) pain," Romain explained.
"The pain of deployment is really hard on these kids, and the majority of people in the world don't realize what (they) are going through."
As they speak with military children, the crew is able to identify the issues children deal with, Englander explained. "A 12-year-old doesn't know anything but wartimes, (so) the tour is a resiliency program for children,: he said.
One of the tour's goals is to encourage children to "make a difference." During the show, Romain tells children, "don't wait for adults to change the world. They have too many meetings, and they take too long."
They also encourage children to express how they're feeling, to support those around them who are having a bad day, and assess what's going on and work through the situation.
They also are educating non-military children on how to support their friends, as well as how to encourage military children to ask for support from their friends.
"(People often say), 'sweetie, don't worry.' We're telling them not to feel," Romain explained. "Now all of a sudden, I'm actually discounting your feelings. Now it's about me, because I don't want to deal with the discomfort of your feelings."
Instead, they tell children to "please, worry." They teach children what to do with their "worry," and how to make it productive in terms of taking care of themselves.
During his performances, Romain shares stories about the people he's encountered.
"I share some very painful things, like the loss of my father, some of the experiences I have had with kids with cancer and children in refugee camps and orphans. It's like I'm just a conduit sharing their story and when they hear how other people have suffered, but expressed themselves, they feel very safe and comfortable," Romain explained.
Pridell also added that it's important to speak to children in "their own language."
"One thing we're trying really hard to do is help kids be compassionate to other kids," Romain said. He noted an instance where a child was expressing herself about being bullied, saying she felt "empty."
Romain described it as a "beautiful" sight when a girl sitting behind the bullied girl wrapped her arms around her.
"It was a very beautiful sight to see; this camaraderie, this togetherness," he added.
"I didn't face a war scenario in my time and these kids have a lot on their plate," Romain said, noting his personal goal is to give back by helping children face something he didn't have to experience growing up.
"We try to give them avenues to speak to other people once we leave," Pridell explained, adding that children can go to their web site, www.trevorromain.com, and share their feelings and tips for deployments with other children.
Romain tells children to ask for what they need by telling them, "Your mommy or daddy (is) working really hard, (and) they can't read your mind. If you need extra love, you need to go up to them and say you need some extra love."
Through the Trevor Romain Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization that supports military Families, they provide movies to help children cope with the challenges of being a military child. Their newest DVD, due out next month, helps children of wounded Soldiers by addressing physical and emotional injuries.
The USO and foundation provide military children with deployment, wounded warrior and grief comfort kits, as well as the "With You All the Way" pack, which, Romain noted, helps children "navigate this difficult path they're traveling."
Every child who attended the event will receive a deployment pack filled with a journal, six of Romain's DVDs and a book by Romain.
Austin Rand, 7, attended the performance and, after meeting with Romain, told his mother, Julie, "Mommy, Trevor changes peoples' lives, and he changed mine."
Rand said it melted her heart when she heard that, noting Austin is excited to get his journal and use it to write about his feelings while his father, Warrant Officer Kevin Rand, is deployed to Afghanistan. A member of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, he deployed the day after Romain's performance.
Although Romain's foundation is just one example of supporting the military through the USO, Clark said everyone can contribute something to the organization that will benefit Soldiers, whether it's time, money or resources.
"The USO's mission is to uplift the spirit and morale of troops and their Families. ThatAca,!a,,cs what they do through this presentation," she said.
Clark noted, because of volunteers, the Fort Drum USO has been able to remain open 365 days a year, for the past three years.
"At the end of the day, the more (people express) themselves, the more they take care of themselves, the more they will reach out to take care of somebody else," Englander added.