Volunteers help military kids
By Brittany Simmons
Tears streamed down the little girl's cheeks as she tightly hugged her father and exchanged "I love you's." He kissed her gently on the cheek and turned while the girl remained behind, waving goodbye, her tears still falling. Welcome to the life of a military child.
Photo provided by Purdue Collegiate 4-H
Jon Pike (left), an Operation: Military Kids volunteer from Rush County, Ind., helps a child compose a letter at a mobile technology lab.
Understanding the hardships the children of military families face motivated Dustin Potts, president of Purdue Collegiate 4-H, to introduce Operation: Military Kids (OMK) to his club. "The best part of this service project was assembling the Hero Packs and knowing that they would provide happiness to local children," said Potts, a junior from Newburgh, Ind., double majoring in horticulture science and public horticulture.
OMK is a national program that helps the children of military families adjust to life while their parents in the military are deployed. One of OMK's national sponsors is 4-H. In Indiana, the OMK team includes 4-H members and Purdue Extension staff. OMK volunteers give the children of military families Hero Packs, or backpacks filled with pencils, toys and other items. "Hero Packs are filled with unique items as a way of saying 'thank you' to the child for the sacrifice they make when a parent is gone," Potts said.
The packs contain a hand-written thank you card for the child, and are filled with notebooks and pencils to help children communicate better with their parents. Other items, such as photo albums, can be filled with family pictures. There also are telephone calling cards to make phoning distant parents easier and more affordable. Not every item in the pack is so practical. They also contain toys and other gifts such as Frisbees, hats, cups and stuffed animals.
"The Collegiate 4-H group thought that this service would be a great way to support children and families within the community," Potts said. "We all agreed that it was important to show these families that we appreciate the sacrifices they are making by having a loved one overseas."
Sarah Wickert, a graduate student in extension education from North Judson, Ind., said the experience was a joy. "The children were very excited," she said. "They each took turns pulling items from their bags. Their eyes lit up like Christmas." But for Wickert, making a difference in the lives of the children and mothers was the most moving. "The mothers were near tears, especially when they read the letters that were written for the families."
Potts also volunteered to staff mobile technology labs at the Indiana State Fair. In the labs, kids use software to create and decorate cards to send to servicemen and women. Volunteering for OMK has been an incredible experience for Potts. He believes in the mission and the work and care Collegiate 4-H puts into their services. "Every experience with OMK is memorable, since I know that we are supporting families with loved ones overseas," he said. "I especially enjoy that we focus on supporting the children and letting them know we care."