Since starting the Military Family Outdoors (MFO) program in 2006, the Sierra Club’s first major partner was the National Military Family Association, who launched the first Operation Purple Camp ® in 2004. The Sierra Club has been a proud sponsor of these camps since 2007. The program partners with other youth camps, primarily from the YMCA or the American Camp Association (ACA) to provide an all military youth camp experience that includes specific curriculum changes from a normal week at camp that include a military day, special mental health support from Tri-Care, an ecological education program, and of course, a service project.
For years, this has been the marquis program of the Sierra Club’s (MFO) program and was one of the major selling points for me when I first applied for the honor to be the National Military Families and Veterans Representative for the Sierra Club. After all, who would not want to spend time at summer camp?
Out of the near 3,000 total military youth participants that the Sierra Club and other partners helped get outside this past summer, I had the opportunity to visit three camps compromising less than 10% of the total participants, but wow! If the rest of the participants were as amazing as the few military youth I got to meet, what a great group of kids! The Military Kids loved being around other kids that they did not have to explain themselves too. However, at two of the camps, the camps hosted a number of non-military youth and in these cases, everyone seemed to benefit greatly from learning from one another.
As a percentage, very few of our Nation’s young people are directly related to the military, but as the National Military Family Association is so fond of saying, “kids serve to!” Even though I was in the Army, and certainly had a number of friends, soldiers, colleagues, and senior leaders who had families, I do not have my own military kids and each young person I met had a lot to teach me about the military experience.
There were young boys and girls who had parents not make it to a birthday party in the last five years. Little League championships had been missed, as had first crushes, school suspensions, talent shows, and more. Many of the young people at the camps were with siblings. In these family units, it was clear to see the roles of mother or father that the older siblings stepped up into since one, or at times, both parents had been serving our nation overseas, while their children served back home.
More than anything though, it was just great to see kids be kids. We don’t, as a nation, give our kids enough opportunities to play, or encourage them to play enough, but many times with only one parent at home, its even harder for military families to get their kids outside. Operation Purple Camps ® at least for one week each year, gives hundreds, if not thousands of military families an opportunity for their kids to run, laugh, and play outside.
As the year comes to an end, I look back on these, perhaps my fondest memories of the summer: running, laughing, and rediscovering my inner child in getting to know you games with five year olds, all the way to zip lines with 17 year olds; some already signed up to follow their mother or father into uniformed service for our nation.
I hope you enjoy a few of the pictures from some of my visits this past summer to the three great camps I got to visit: Camp Erdman on the beautiful North Shore of Oahua; Camp Shady Brook, nestled in the shadow of Pikes Peak; and NorthBay Adventure Camp across the Chesapeake Bay from Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.
~Stacy Bare, OIF Veteran
Military Families and Veteran Representative to the Sierra Club
"Helping America's Military and Veteran Community experience the freedom of the land they defend"