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Salute the Kids: Camping adventure for military families

Military kids and their families enjoy horseback riding during the Salute the Kids Spring Family Camp in May 2017 at Pine Cove in Tyler, TX.

(ROCKWALL, TX — September 29, 2017) A total of 15 military families – a third of them from Rockwall County – will come together for a free weekend of excitement, re-connection and healing at beautiful Pine Cove in Tyler, TX during the Salute the Kids Fall Family Camp on Oct. 13-15.

Salute the Kids is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization offering free weekend family camping adventures for military families and their kids. Held twice a year in the spring and fall, the Family Camps provide a great way for military members to try new things together with their family, relax and create fun memories. They can enjoy many different fun activities together with their kids, including horseback riding, ziplining and a family obstacle course made of pool noodles. The family that comes out on top receives medals made of candy bars.

“It’s really fun to see all of our service members running this obstacle course with their kids,” said Sommer Houser, founder of Salute the Kids. “The kids love to see their parents acting silly, and it just brings these families together. They are apart so often, so it’s just so critical for these families to have this fun silliness together.”

Other engaging activities included in the camping experience are unique arts and crafts for kids, basketball, Gaga Ball, ping-pong, frisbee golf, campfires and a family movie night complete with popcorn, candy and lots of laughter.

Salute the Kids Family Camps also include a therapeutic component to each camping session in order to help military kids to de-stress and cope positively to deployments, relocation and other challenges of military life. Presented by a certified therapist, the activities help provide each child with a tool to take home from camp that will have a positive impact on their life.

Salute the Kids Deployment Wall Kits come packed with several different items to help military kids stay connected with their deployed parents.

One such tool is the Deployment Wall Kit, which offers kids a way to stay connected to their military family members while they are away on deployment or training for an extended amount of time. Wrapped up into each kit are a world map, children’s book on deployment, calendar, daddy/mommy mail envelope, clocks, weather cards and paper chain links. The items in the kit allow military children to keep track of the time and weather of their deployed parents’ location, while the calendar and paper chain links let them visualize the number of days that have passed since their parents have been on deployment and the number of days left until they return. During the Family Camp, families will also create family banners to go with the kits.

“The therapeutic activity is where the kids get to see all these other families and talk about deployment, and we’re very real with each other,” Houser said. “We’re very real in saying, ‘How do you feel about deployment?’ And they can see that they’re not the only one who’s feeling sad or angry about deployment. It’s that shared experienced that helps them process their feelings about it, which is helpful because we always feel better when we know someone’s walking on the same path we are.”

Houser said she was inspired to start Salute the Kids about two years ago when she worked as a Big Sister mentoring kids in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America while living in Alaska. One of her Little Sisters had active duty military parents who she was surprised to find out were both on deployment at the same time.

“I was so amazed by this child’s resiliency and her bravery, and of how proud she was that both her parents served. That really sparked my interest in how important it was to recognize her for her service, in addition to recognizing her family for their service,” Houser said. “It really opened my eyes to how she’s not seen for her service, and that’s what led me to want to recognize military children with Salute the Kids.”

She launched the first camp back in May of this year and in an 18-hour period, had 137 military families turn in applications to participate in the camp.

Houser said while their focus right now is on supporting kids whose parents are active duty National Guard or Reserves, she eventually hopes to open a summer camp that will provide free week-long camp sessions for military children from every branch of the military, including children of veterans and fallen service members.

“The military community is all about this,” Houser said. “They see the need and are extremely excited about it.”

For more information visit www.salutethekids.org.

By Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News. Photos courtesy of Salute the Kids.

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