Kids Kamp 2014 - Part 1 of 2

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kasey Phipps
  • 137th Air Refueling Wing
Laughter spills through the doorway as campers open the doors and enter the dining facility. Inside, excited chatter splashes and flows around campers wearing bright colors.

Also scattered throughout the room in vibrant matching shirts are the adult and youth volunteers whose presence ensures that the fun of the Oklahoma National Guard's Kids Kamp continues year after year at Camp Gruber in Braggs, Oklahoma. The July 20 -26 camp helped to create a better understanding within campers of their family's role in the military.

"We teach our kids and our volunteers that they serve too - just like mom and dad do," OKNG Lead Child and Youth Program Coordinator Pamela Reeds said. "So what we've seen is that there's such a connection between the two. These kids are our next generation."

With nearly 100 campers checked in for the weeklong camp this year, a combined 110 military or military associated volunteers oversee the activities, the organization, and the needs of Kids Kamp.

Oklahoma National Guard family programs designed the camp to provide support for the children in National Guard families and also, indirectly, the active members by instilling support within the family.

"Our whole focus is creating a community for these kids," OKNG Deputy Child and Youth Program Coordinator Barry McCoy said. "We can grow our program through Kids Kamp and inspire the kids to want to make a difference in other peoples' lives."

Volunteers can be youth volunteers beginning at the age of 14, or adult volunteers who begin at 18. Combined, they help to organize the logistics behind the scenes or lead campers by direct interactions throughout the day. 

"The youth support staff does a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes for the camp that absolutely could not be accomplished without them," said McCoy.

The youth leaders can work as a part of the Youth Support Staff or they can become a group leader for an age group identified by a common color. Group leaders help to bridge the gap between younger campers and adult leaders as they form bonds to sustain the campers.

"The youth group leaders are really the heartbeat of camp," said McCoy. "As far as building cohesion in the groups and getting the groups to buy into the Kids Kamp values, the youth leaders are absolutely invaluable. They're irreplaceable."

When McCoy looks for volunteers, he normally discovers them through word of mouth during the year, he said. However, he searches for something other than the ability to lead kids around the camp. He calls it "will over skill."

"The drive for Kids Kamp is we like to find people with a heart for it, and then from there, they can learn the ropes," he said.

Though volunteers guide campers into wisdom and important leadership traits, they also develop their own leadership traits as camp progresses. 

"I'm usually pretty reserved, but this camp has made me more confident and outgoing," said fourth-year blue adult group leader Krista Roberts with the 120th Medical Company in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. "It's not just for the kids."

Many of the youth leaders volunteer each year because they remember the impact the camp had on them as campers. In its 18th year, Kids Kamp continues to bring in volunteers in this way.

"When I was a camper, there were always youth leaders there helping me out and kind of giving me that leading hand," Colton Lobb, a youth volunteer and youth group leader for the light blue team. "So I kind of wanted to turn back the favor and give it back to younger kids and kind of help them."

Though volunteers reinvest their time, sleep and even vacation into Kids Kamp every year, they still encourage more Guardsmen to do the same for their families, themselves and the kids.

"This camp has changed my life completely," said Brett Keenan, third-year volunteer youth group leader for the blue team. "I don't know what I would be doing without Kids Kamp."

While campers finish their meals and rise from their seats in a frantic rainbow, the volunteer group leaders call to their respective groups, leading them into the daylight and onto their next challenge.