CORVALLIS, Ore.— School-age children in Oregon who have a parent deployed in the military now have access to a program that provides support and activities through the Oregon State University Extension 4-H Youth Development program.
The mission of Operation: Military Kids is to support "suddenly military" children whose parents are deployed through the National Guard, military reserves or as active duty soldiers by creating networks of people and organizations where the children live.
The program is part of the 4-H/Army Youth Development Project and the Army Integrated Family Support Network. Although the program has been active since 2005, Oregon and 14 other states were chosen to begin an Operation: Military Kids program now because military families are "geographically dispersed" throughout the states, according to Joan Engeldinger, OSU Extension faculty member who coordinates the Oregon program.
"Oregon has more than 10,000 people in the military with more than 6,500 children," Engeldinger said. “Many of them live in remote places throughout the state and have little contact with other military families. The federal government has realized that its National Guard and military reserves, who are not affiliated with a military base, need the peace of mind that their families are being well taken care of.”
Finding military families in Oregon can be difficult without a state military base, Engeldinger said. Therefore, 4-H leaders, teachers and school counselors will have the opportunity to attend three trainings on how to identify and work with military children over the next two years, conducted by a nonprofit organization called Military Child Educational Coalition.
"Operation: Military Kids is becoming another important program of 4-H in Oregon," Engeldinger said, "and will provide a sense of belonging for the children."
Families that relocate will find the familiarity of similar 4-H programs in other locations, she added.
Weekend family camps for five or six military families at a time will begin in September at the 4-H Center in Salem. Families will work with therapists and other specialists who can help with practical problems such as coping with lowered incomes and doing home repairs. The family camps also will be offered in other parts of the state.
In addition, 4-H will offer its third Operation Purple camp this summer for 300 military children from Oregon. The four-week, high-adventure camps are presented through another nonprofit, the National Military Family Association . The goals of the free summer camps are to bring together youth who are experiencing deployment of a parent and give them coping skills and a support networks of peers.
Oregon 4-H leaders also have been introduced to "Ready, Set, Go," a training tool kit offered through Operation: Military Kids to educate 4-H workers, educators, counselors and other community service agencies about military culture, the deployment cycle, fostering resilience in kids, influence of the media and building community.
Another program, "Speak Out for Military Kids," is being adopted in Oregon. Military and non-military students are trained to establish speakers' bureaus and advocate for military youth affected by deployment, especially those who lack support systems because of where they live.
Operation: Military Kids also provides a mobile tech lab that travels around the state, giving military children means to communicate with their deployed parent, wherever he or she might be. The equipment includes computer and video equipment for interaction through e-mail and websites and by printing cards. The mobile tech lab will be available at the Navy Reserve Family Day May 3 at Swan Island in Portland.
For information about how to connect Oregon's military children with the new program, contact Engeldinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. The OSU 4-H Youth program is on the web at http://oregon.4h.oregonstate.edu.