GIG HARBOR On a normal Sunday afternoon, sounds of birds chirping, water gently lapping at the side of a canoe and a breeze rustling tree branches are the only things heard while walking around YMCA Camp Seymour at Gig Harbor. Those sounds are quickly replaced as dozens and dozens of children arrive eager to take part in Camp Corral, Aug. 3 to 9.
The camp offers the attendees a chance to spend time outdoors, meet new people, participate in various activities, and enjoy being a child without any of the stresses and challenges of being a military dependent for a week.
“In 2010, Golden Corral founder James Maynard began looking for a program that would give back to the military and their families,” said Hannah Hetler, program and camp coordinator for Camp Corral. “He wanted to serve those who first serve us. Golden Corral has a long history of honoring the military and veterans organizations which made supporting the military child a natural extension.”
To succeed in serving those who first serve, Camp Corral provides the “week of a lifetime” for children from ages 8 to 15 of wounded, disabled, fallen military service members and currently serving service members free of charge.
Selection priority was given first to children of service members who were killed in action or wounded, second to those with deployed parents and total number of deployments, and any remaining slots are open to any other military child.
“Over the past three years, (Camp Corral) has served more than 4,000 dependents,” Hetler said. “Each camp is different, offering unique activities specific to each location to provide a world-class camping experience.”
For 14-year-old Makenna Bridges, this camp was a great opportunity to get away from Army life and make new friends.
“I had a lot of fun during this camp,” said Bridges, who lives on JBLM. “It helped me grow out of my comfort zone. It was a great opportunity to make new friends who I will continue to spend time with outside of camp.”
Camp Corral first opened as a one-camp program serving approximately 300 campers. Now the program has grown to 22 camp sessions across 16 states with more than 3,200 military children participating.
The campers were offered a choice of activities they would like to participate in upon first arrival. They then spent the week mastering the skills at each location. Each event emphasized the importance of working together and supporting one another.
“We’ve gotten a lot of overwhelmingly positive feedback from the parents about how their child returned with a gambit of skill sets,” Hetler said. “For most of the children, this is their first time being independent from their family. Throughout the week you can see the confidence boost in the children.”
The activities helped children build a variety of skills and self-confidence through events such as rock wall climbing, canoeing, kayaking and archery. It also encouraged positive interaction and enhancement of the children’s interpersonal skills.
“This camp definitely raised my morale since the start,” said Bridges. “The skills I learned help make me more adaptive to being a military child.”
Bridges, like the other children, could be found talking to and laughing with new friends throughout the week.
“It is great to watch the children connect with each other,” said Scott Jackson, camp executive director YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap counties. “This was also a great opportunity for them to see there are others with similar upbringing.”
After the conclusion of the activities, the children came together to enjoy “Hero Day;” a day where campers reflect on the accomplishments and sacrifices of their heroes.
“Each camp decides on activities throughout the week, but Hero Day is a program requirement,” Hetler said. “This allows the children to be aware and connect with someone who has a similar job to their parents.”
At Camp Seymour, Hero Day consisted of an opening ceremony with a special presentation followed by carnival type games, a slip and slide, and bouncy houses.
“For our Hero Day, we put together a video project where the children stated why their heroes are their heroes,” Jackson said. “Hopefully it gives the children an appreciation of what their parents do, the sacrifices they make and it will also give the children an understanding that their parents still love and care for them when they are gone.”