Welcome to the first post of the Sierra Club's Military Family Outdoor (MFO) Initiative blog! We are proud to be connecting military families with the healing benefits of our natural heritage. The Sierra Club has partnered with amazing organizations to ensure that those families making the greatest sacrifices for our country are able to get outside and benefit from the natural wonders that make this land great. This blog will provide updates on the MFO campaign, our partners, events, news and more.
One of our partners is the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA). The ASYMCA is the nation's leading non- profit organization providing educational, recreational, social and religious support services to junior enlisted military personnel and their families. The Sierra Club is working with the ASYMCA to provide unique outdoor camping experiences for military families and the children of service members. By the end of 2008, through our partnership with the ASYMCA, we will have sent nearly 4,000 military kids and families to camps in 12 different states from California to Maine.
These outdoor camps enable military families to take a break from their everyday worries and find the respite and renewal that comes from just being outside. A service member and his or her entire family can escape to an outdoor setting where they can reconnect following an extended deployment. Military children of deployed parents gain empowerment through the outdoor challenges and adventures and find camaraderie among others who share their experiences.
On Friday, I participated in a camp graduation for over 100 Kansas National Guard and Reserve children at the Kansas National Guard Regional Training Institute. The graduation hall was packed with kids and their families as well as counselors and camp staff following the five-day camp. Amazingly, the camp was run almost entirely by volunteer National Guard service members and their families. For many of them, this was their 3rd, 4th, or 5th year volunteering at the camp. Sitting in their squads as they waited for the ceremony to begin, the campers were just jittery with excitement, but also looked exhausted after a week of non-stop camp action.
Suddenly, the campers were thrilled to jump to attention and shout out their cadences as the camp 1st Sergeant ran down the aisle. "Hooah!" they all called in unison. After showing a video of camp highlights (accompanied by loud cheering and jeering from the campers), the ceremony began. Major General Tod M. Bunting, Adjutant General of Kansas, personally shook the campers' hands and presented them with awards such as "most improved squad."
I was moved by the pride that I saw in each child's face as they walked across the stage. It was obvious that this had been a very important week for them and that they appreciated the sincerity of the accolades they were receiving. The children certainly had a wonderful time at camp, but were also very solemn and serious about their own responsibilities and actions. Watching their faces, I felt so proud to be a part of this incredible program serving these young American heroes.
The ceremony ended with a special surprise performance by Levity recording artist Cali. The kids had a great time at the concert and a few of them even got to dance on stage with the pop star and her dance crew!