UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- This April, Penn State Extension will help celebrate the Month of the Military Child, a time to recognize the sacrifices made by military families and their children, with a variety of activities.
Operation: Military Kids is a youth-development program that supports the children of those serving in the National Guard and Reserve, and the families of active-duty service members affected by the global war on terrorism. Penn State Extension manages this program in Pennsylvania, as well as the 4-H Military Partnership.
When military parents living in civilian communities are mobilized, their children suddenly have unique needs for special support services, according to Susan Smith, Operation: Military Kids state director and 4-H military liaison for Penn State Extension. These youth need to connect with other youth in similar situations, Smith noted, as they seek friends and adults who can empathize and help them cope with their new world.
The sixth annual Salute to the Military Child Family Fun Fair will occur from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 6, in Penn State's Snider Agricultural Arena, at the corner of Park Avenue and Fox Hollow Road on the University Park campus. The event, which is open to military families and the public, is a collaborative effort between Operation: Military Kids, and Penn State's Recreation, Parks and Tourism Management Department.
Smith recalls a poignant example of how the fair can affect military families. "While one member of the Air National Guard was deployed, he had the opportunity to Skype with his children after a Salute to the Military Child Family Fun Fair," she said.
"He spoke of how excited his kids were to receive 'hero packs,' which are backpacks presented to children of deployed military," said Smith. "They showed him everything they received. His one son in particular was thrilled to walk away from the event with a fishing pole and tackle box."
The Family Fun Fair is one of many events planned by Operation: Military Kids throughout April to observe the Month of the Military Child:
-- Eye of a Military Child Creative Arts Contest: This collaboration with the American Legion Auxiliary Unit No. 432 in Wheatland will encourage creative, innovative military kids to submit artwork or poetry depicting the life of a military child. Submissions will be exhibited at the Salute to the Military Child Family Fun Fair on April 6.
-- The fourth annual Purple Up! for Military Kids, April 15: Everyone across the state and nation is encouraged to wear purple on that Tuesday as a visible way to show support and thank military children for their strength and sacrifices. Purple is the color that symbolizes all branches of the military, Smith explained, because it is the combination of Army green, Marine red and Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard blue.
There will be a Purple Up! table at the Hetzel Union Building at University Park on April 15. "We hope everyone will take this opportunity to appreciate and celebrate these young heroes," she said. "The goal is for military youth to see the support of their community."
-- Project Beacon Weekend Retreats, sponsored in partnership with Easter Seals of Western and Central Pennsylvania, will be held April 11 to 13 in Columbia County and May 2 to 4 in Somerset County. In 2013, two Project Beacon retreats held at Camp Victory in Columbia County served 140 military youth.
"These retreats are very popular and fill within days of being announced," Smith said. "The purpose of the retreat is to provide a fun and safe camping experience, which helps military kids get away from the routine of having a parent in the deployment cycle."
The Somerset County retreat will wrap up Month of the Military Child.
"We in Penn State Extension urge people to help Operation: Military Kids and the 4-H Military Partnership in their mission to support military families and their children by attending these events this April," Smith said. "It's a great cause."
The Operation: Military Kids partnership is a shared initiative of the U.S. Army Child, Youth & School (CYS) Services and funded by the Army National Guard and Army Reserve in collaboration with Penn State Extension.