Deborah Hurlbert, Morgan, Johnny W. | 7/2/2005 3:10:18 AM
Children of U.S. Army Reservists experienced a taste of the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H Camp at an afternoon outing of fun and games near Slidell this week.
The children were participating in the Operation Military Kids program – a diverse effort that is being conducted by land-grant universities across the country and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Army Youth Development Project, National 4-H Headquarters and Army Child and Youth Services.
The program is designed to create community support networks for military youth when their parents are deployed in the National Guard and Army Reserve.
Debbie Hurlbert of the LSU AgCenter’s state 4-H office, who is one of the organizers of Louisiana’s part in the program, said this is the first year the AgCenter’s 4-H department has been involved. But Hurlbert also said she hopes it’s only the beginning of a long relationship.
Hurlbert said the idea for LSU AgCenter 4-H youth, volunteers and faculty to take part in the three-day Adventure Camp at Slidell started when LSU AgCenter personnel were asked by USDA’s regional program coordinator if 4-H’ers would be interested in helping to put on a program for the children of Army Reservists in the New Orleans metropolitan area.
"We brought four present and former 4-H-ers to help put on some fun and educational programs," Hurlbert said of the camp, explaining, "Some of the games are to help them with team-building skills, and we will also do some computer assimilation."
As an example, Hurlbert said one of the computer programs is called "Rollercoaster Tycoon" – where the participants develop a theme park and compete with others to determine which designs are best.
More than 70 youngsters from the ages of 7 to 14 participated in the three-day, two-night camp, which included an afternoon of activities presented by the 4-H’ers Wednesday (June 29).
"This pretty much grew out of the Army Youth Development Project," said Hurlbert, who serves as a "military contact" for the LSU AgCenter to help with the cooperative efforts involving USDA, 4-H and the military.
"Each state has a military contact, and through the military contact we’re able to coordinate with National Guard or Army Reservists," Hurlbert explained.
Army Reserve Lt. Col. Donald Jefcoat said the Adventure Camp has been going on for the past 11 years.
"These children are primarily from the New Orleans area, and what we’re trying to do is speak to them on the hazards of drug and alcohol abuse and other issues," he said.
This year’s camp was held at Camp Villere, but it also has been held in other locations, Jefcoat said.
"We have speakers from law enforcement agencies and events like the obstacle course," he explained. "We have the rock climb, we have representatives from 4-H and we also have representatives from the district attorney’s office."
Jeffcoat said the major purpose is to try to help the kids decide early in life not to participate in substance abuse, including smoking, and to avoid other risky behaviors.
Brian Franklin, a camper from New Orleans, said he’s been coming to the Adventure Camp for about six years.
"I think this is a very fun camp," he said. "We ride in Hummers, sometimes we have water fights, and the food is good. I think other people should come."
Franklin said his dad was in Kuwait from February 2004 until March 2005, and he said it’s really hard when his dad is gone. "It’s hard, because it’s just my mom, my sister and me, and my mom, sometimes she needs help," the youngster said.
Helping parents and children cope is one of the purposes of the joint national effort called Operation Military Kids.
"Our plan is to strengthen the relationship between 4-H and the military in order to help these young people to cope better while their parents are off serving our country," Hurlbert said.
4-H is the youth development and outreach program of the nation’s land-grant universities and is operated in Louisiana by the LSU AgCenter. The program strives to help youth develop "life skills" that will benefit them, their families and their communities.
One of the highlights of the day with 4-H at the Adventure Camp at Slidell was when Hurlbert and others handed out "Hero Packs" that had been assembled by 4-H’ers from across the state. These packs were bags that contained such items as disposable cameras, stationery and a variety of other items designed to help kids cope and stay in touch while their military parents are deployed.
To find out more about the 4-H youth development program and its involvement in Operation Military Kids, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension Office or visit www.lsuagcenter.com.