SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY -- Nearly 100 volunteers learned how to help families "stay in focus" as the demands on New York National Guard families change.

With the end of military actions in Iraq in 2011 and the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, it's expected the New York National Guard will see fewer deployments," said Andrew DePalo, the director of the New York National Guard Family Programs, April 14.

"Just because there is a drawdown in troops, doesn't mean we can draw down on taking care of our service members and their families," DePalo said. "The stresses of combat and reintegration affect the family as well, and we need to stay focused on providing tools to facilitate ongoing communication and resources to help families work through these issues."

The 2012 workshop highlighted the vast network of agencies; employers, veteran and volunteer service organizations, and private businesses available to support New York military service members and their families and provided a venue to share knowledge and experience volunteers have developed over the years.

"We continually emphasize education, training and using outreach services and partnerships to leverage resources to help service members and their families," DePalo added.

In addition to the day long training, several regional workshops will be held around the state throughout the year. These sessions include information briefings and discussions on family program and readiness group roles and responsibilities, communication techniques, fundraising, event planning and identifying and using available resources.

While the adult leaders focused on volunteer efforts, more than 50 children, ages 6-18, experienced their own 'stay on focus' activities while sharing a full day of leadership, team and confidence building at The Edge -- Halfmoon, a nearby climbing gym.

The Edge offers activities to enhance the physical, mental, social and spiritual lives of children. Through physical activity, youth learn teambuilding skills and achieve personal rewards that include acquiring self worth, competence, judgment and effective decision making and communication skills.

"This was a great opportunity for our kids to challenge themselves and become positive role models for other youth," said Keri O'Neil, a New York National Guard Child & Youth Coordinator. "They learn to work together, develop relationships and communicate with each other in an environment that encourages them to motivate and inspire each other."

"The timing for this workshop was perfect, since April is the Month of the Military Child and was established to underscore the important role children play in the Armed Forces community, said Colleen Casey, a New York National Guard Child & Youth Coordinator. "It's vital that we recognize and applaud Families and their children for the daily sacrifices they make in supporting their service member.

Local Life Scout Matt Murray from Troop 537 in Brunswick volunteered as a youth mentor.
"I believe it's our responsibility to take care of those who put their personal lives aside and go overseas to fight for our freedom, this is my way of saying thank you," Murray said.

Murray also talked to teens about his Eagle Scout project, Operation P.A.T.H. which stands for Parents and Teens Hanging. The event will bring over 50 veterans and their teenage children to Lake Placid, N.Y. to spend a day enjoying Olympic venues on July 25, 2012. The day includes bobsled and gondola rides, shooting on the biathlon range, a "Wet and Wild" show and passes to the top of the Olympic Jumping Complex and museum as well as meals.

Murray has raised over $4,000 through raffles, pancake breakfasts, a local bowl-a-thon and donations to cover all expenses for participants.

"I want to give returning veterans an opportunity for a positive experience with their kids where they can get away and simply have fun," Murray said.