By Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill, National Guard BureauApril 15, 2010
WASHINGTON (April 14, 2010) -- When 9-year-old Valerie Gonzalez's father deployed to Kosovo with the California Army National Guard, Valerie got a grant that helped her participate in extracurricular activities.
She took tap dancing classes, paid for in part by a six-year-old organization called Our Military Kids. It provides grants for enrichment activities and tutoring that nurture and sustain children during the time a parent is away serving our country.
Valerie was inspired to give back, so with the help of a teacher she created an "Adopt a Soldier" program at her California school. The program collected boxes of items for troops serving overseas, and Valerie and her teacher made a bulletin board about her father and his unit.
That step above and beyond earned Valerie a 2010 Our Military Kid of the Year designation at a Capitol Hill ceremony here Tuesday.
"The youngest members of our families face unique challenges associated with the deployment of a parent," said Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau. "Programs like Our Military Kids offer constructive and useful outlets for children of Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen who are away serving their country."
The program has given grants to more than 17,000 children of deployed National Guard and Reserve servicemembers for activities - such as sports - fine arts and tutoring, said Greg O'Brien, a spokesman for Our Military Kids.
"National Guard and Reserve children have the added challenge of being geographically dispersed across the country, often too far from military installations to take advantage of support services," said Linda Davidson, executive director of Our Military Kids. "By providing grants to sponsor activities for these kids, they're better able to cope with the challenges experienced during a parent's deployment."
Four of the five children recognized during the event were Guard children, including: Valerie, the daughter of Army Master Sgt. Juan O. Gonzalez; Jasmine Warren, the daughter of Army Staff Sgt. Stephen Warren of Georgia; Taylor Ulmen, the daughter of Sgt. First Class Jeffrey Ulmen of Minnesota; and the Sonnen family of Minnesota.
John Stefan Jenkins Jr. is the son of Army Maj. John Jenkins Sr., who is a member of the New York Army Reserve.
Recent studies have found participation in activities such as sports distract from negative feelings associated with a parent's deployment, O'Brien said. Studies suggest it is also important that children feel their parent is making a difference in the world.