Hearts of Our Heroes camp offers Gold Star kids a chance to connect
By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
June 23, 2017
- Camp designed to connect surviving children of deceased military service members
- “Hearts of Our Heroes” among dozens of camps hosted each summer
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FERNDALE, Ark. – Throughout each summer, the Arkansas 4-H Center hosts dozens of camps designed to offer unique experiences to a range of populations, both young and old, giving Arkansans from all walks of life the chance to experience the fun and challenge of both indoor and outdoor activities.
One of those camps, the Hearts of Our Heroes camp, is aimed specifically at the surviving children and siblings of U.S. service members who have died in the service of their country.
Camp organizer Angela Beason said the camp, now in its fourth year, grew out of Arkansas Run for the Fallen, a non-profit organization founded in 2012 that seeks to honor deceased service members through an annual 146-mile run through a portion of the state.
Beason said that while attendees, who come from throughout Arkansas, usually enjoy the various activities offered at the camp, its real purpose is to help survivors connect with others through sharing their experiences.
“They get closer, they form friendships,” Beason said. “Which is great. We want them to make connections. Many times, they’re spread out across the state, and they don’t know if there’s anybody else going through the same things they’re feeling every day.
“We have some kids who only see each other this one week out of the year, because they’re separated by six hours of driving,” she said. “Seeing each other for this entire week gives them the chance to renew their friendship and get closer every year. They may see each other at other events throughout the year, but they never get the chance to spend this much time together.”
Beason said nine children attended this year’s camp, aged 13-17.
One of the features of the 4-H Center the Hearts of Our Heroes camp were able to experience was the ExCEL course, designed to facilitate team building through a series of complex challenges around the grounds of the center.
Shannon Caldwell, 4-H Center program coordinator, said ExCEL (“Experience the Challenge, Experience the Leadership”) can be tailored to each group’s specific needs and goals.
“We work with a wide variety of groups of campers, such as those with the Hearts of Our Heroes camp, to high school football teams, to college student orientation teams, to corporate executives,” she said.
“We develop programming to meet the specific needs of each group and adapt programming based on the dynamics of the group while they are with us,” she said. “To see a team come together and to have those ‘ah-ha’ moments that lead to long-term positive change is very rewarding. It’s just one of the many reasons we love doing what we do. We really do have a passion for facilitating positive change.”
Luke Nipper, ExCEL program coordinator, said the program was founded more than 30 years ago.
“Since 1986, ExCEL has worked with thousands of groups to help them become better teams.”
As part of the camp, active duty military members visit the camp for a day as “battle buddies,” paired with individual camp members.
“It helps everyone involved in a few ways,” Beason said. “It gives the service member a connection to what they do during volunteer activities, including the Run for the Fallen, and it gives these kids an opportunity to make a connection with a military service member.
“In cases where they’ve lost a parent, a lot of them lost that connection to the military,” she said. “So it gives them a chance to reestablish that connection.”
To learn about Arkansas 4-H, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.edu.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service