The importance of resilience cannot be overstated when it comes to members of the Utah National Guard and their families. While it is a common topic in service member briefings and discussions, it can be easy to underestimate or ignore the need for family members to be resilient as well. This is one reason why it’s important that the Utah National Guard adopt, cultivate, and promote events and activities in an ongoing effort to bring family members together to establish and strengthen relationships within the organization, especially in preparation for times of absence. The UTNG-Kids summer camp is one such event hosted by Utah National Guard Youth Programs that has seen great success.
Ashley Warren, Soldier and Family Assistance Center specialist, parent, and volunteer, said this was her kids’ first time attending the camp. She was one of the parents sitting on the fence prior to this year, always concerned about whether her kids would enjoy it or shy away from activities. After witnessing her kids’ flourish, she quickly changed her tune.
“Don’t underestimate your kids,” she said. “They can push through a lot more than you might think they can. If you’re not sure what they would like, start with a smaller activity and go from there. Just get involved.”
Warren also mentioned that this year is exceptionally special because it’s the first in-person camp since before the pandemic. The additional hardships that came during the last couple of years with COVID-19, civil unrest, and natural disasters–and the extra deployments that occurred as a result–paired with the fact that Youth Programs had to temporarily shut down in-person activities made it extra difficult to keep the kids engaged with each other.
“When you come [to camp], you realize just how diverse the Utah National Guard is, and the families are very different. There are kids who have single parents, blended families, multiple kids who have lost a parent, kids with same-sex parents. But when the kids talked about their fears they were all very much the same–losing a parent, being alone, and being forgotten were the most common answers.”
One of the activities the kids participated in was called “The Circle,” where they were invited to share specifics about themselves and their lives at home. At the start, they sit down with a blank piece of paper and colored pens to answer a few simple questions without using words. These were the questions:
How would you describe your family?
What do you like to do for fun?
As a military kid, what scares you or makes you sad?
Think about superheroes in your life–what is a quality you admire?
Warren said she got emotional when hearing some of the kids talk about their answers.
“Most kids depicted their superhero as their service member parent,” she said. “Many of the kids talked about how hard their parent works, and how proud they are that they serve our country, then come home and are still such a great parent,” Warren continued:
“These kids come from different commands across the state, and they haven’t met. They’re all experiencing the same deployment cycles and the hardship that is military life, but they’re doing it alone–they don’t live on a military base, they’re living in these communities where the kids going to school aren’t experiencing the same hardships.”
Dee Davies LaMay, an 18-year gratuitous volunteer from Rhode Island, creator and facilitator of “Dee Time” during camp, explained that when given the opportunity to go to summer camp, kids identify with each other and realize they’re not alone in their circumstances.
“If somebody’s mom or dad is deployed, they find out that there are other people in that same situation, and I love that it gives them that opportunity [to connect],” she said. “They can be kids…military kids and be proud and understanding of each other.”
Speaking to the importance of UTNG Youth Programs, Dee also shared her passion for giving kids every tool available.
“Bring them,“ she said. “There’s nothing better than connections because at school you get labeled right off the bat. Maybe you can create a-whole-nother existence. Kids can be whoever they want when they come here, they have a second chance.”
Focusing on leadership, resiliency, education, and fun, UTNG Youth Programs puts on a myriad of functions throughout the year for military kids, including various camps, classes and workshops. Due to limited staffing and high demand, the summer camps can often have long waiting lists, especially leading up to and during deployments, so it’s important to start getting your kids involved early.
For more information regarding UTNG Youth Programs, contact the Program Director, Connie Parker at 801-716-9239 or email email@example.com.