Gold Star Families take relaxing pit stop at Victory Junction
March 29, 2011
RANDLEMAN, N.C. -- Servicemembers and their families make many sacrifices to protect our nation. Some make the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. When a serviemember dies, spouses must learn how to manage life without a husband or a wife. Children must learn how to continue on without a father or mother.
Gold Star families have been able to retreat to a place in Randleman, N.C. called Victory Junction to get away from everyday life and focus on having fun.
In 2004, the Richard Petty family built Victory Junction in memory of Adam Petty, son of Kyle Petty who died in a NASCAR race. (It is a camp open to the public and available for private groups such as Gold Star families.)
The camp has much to offer, such as catch and release fishing, canoeing, bowling, gymnasium, and a small water park. The camp also has a medical facility that serves over 24 chronic medical conditions and serious illnesses such as, Autism, Cancer, Craniofacial Anomalies, Diabetes, Hemophilia, Sickle Cell and Spina Bifida and many others. Over the past several years, attendance has gradually increased; twenty-two families attended this year's event.
Charlotte Watson, program manager for Survivor Outreach Services on Fort Bragg, hopes everyone takes something away from these events.
"I want everyone to realize they can still be a family, have fun and put all their worries aside," said Watson. "Victory Junction is an amazing place for families and what they do for children with special as well as survivors is a statement for Victory Junction.
Running a facility like Victory Junction requires people with compassion. At the head of the team is Austin Petty, son of Kyle Petty and brother to the late Adam Petty.
Austin, executive vice president of Victory Junction, always wanted to join the military but could not due to medical disabilities. He did go to the Virginia Military Institute for a year before his ankles gave out.
"To see this keep going and getting bigger and bigger is a wonderful thing, it touches my heart," said Austin. "This is our third year supporting the Gold Star family members."
The Petty family lost Adam 11 years ago in a racecar crash and knows what it is like to lose family members.
"It's a totally different situation when we lost somebody in our family to driving a race car to you losing someone in your family serving and protecting our country," Austin said. "Be extremely honored, be extremely humbled for what your family member did for us, because we are extremely honored and proud of it and you should be too."
Austin hopes that everyone who attends takes something good away from their visit at Victory Junction.
"Just take away some happiness, take away some joy," said Austin. "We build the place in memory of my brother, we took a tragedy and turned it into something that is now making thousands of family members happy."
Good can come from something tragic, it is hard to do, but it can be done.
"Just because something tragic has happened, you have to find something good in it and hold on to that good and run with it," said Austin.
Family members who have attended the camp have all found something good. For some families this was their first time attending and others their third. Many made new friends and others reunited with friends from previous years.
Amanda Rada, a Gold Star family member, has brought her family to Victory Junction for the past three years, since this retreat started. Her children have been able to enjoy and have fun at the camp.
"I come here for my kids," said Rada. "As long as they have it and my kids still want to come, I'll attend."
For Susan Carron, also a Gold Star family member, this was her families first time attending.
"I like it a lot," said Susan. "It's really fun, great activities for the kids, a camp for them to get away."
Carron plans to continue attending so long as it is available.
"This is a great place and very happy they have a place like this," said Susan.
Staci Chiomento brought her family to Victory Junction last year and returned for the same great atmosphere.
Staci returned because she had so much fun the first time she attended'
"This time it's more fun because I'm more oriented from before," said Chiamento.
"It's all about the volunteers here that make it."
The overall lesson of Victory Junction is the caring from people you do not even know.
"These are people we do not know and these people that care about us because of things they may or may not have went through," said Staci.
Not only family members came out to the camp. Fort Bragg's Maj. Gen. Rodney O. Anderson, the 18th Airborne Corps deputy commanding general, came out for a visit to see firsthand all the activities the families get to enjoy during their visit.
"It's really a testament to those who honor the families of our fallen," said Anderson. "They donate their time and this facility to help them take their minds off everyday things."
Anderson would hope that the children take away one thing from this event.
"They are special, they are our future, there is nothing that we won't do to support them because they are our future," said Anderson. "Victory Junction is one of the best examples of what is special about being an American, focused on children and having fun, focused on our volunteers, focused on all the positive things about being an American."
"One of the most unique parts of Victory Junction is the 'beating heart,'" said Watson. "It is atop the spiritual center and only beats or 'flashes' when campers are in attendance."