Valentine program set to boost military kids’ spirits

Johnny Morgan  |  1/30/2009 2:27:52 AM

News Release Distributed 01/29/09

The LSU AgCenter’s Operation: Military Kids program has joined with I CARE-Baton Rouge to provide Valentine’s Day cards to Louisiana’s deployed military personnel and their children.

The project is focused on the children of these military personnel, said Kathleen Schexnayder in the LSU AgCenter’s state 4-H office, who is in charge of the Operation: Military Kids program for Louisiana.

Operation: Military Kids is a program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense. It started five years ago with the goal of educating the public about the unique stress facing military children – especially those who are not living on military installations. The program is designed to create community support networks for military youth when their parents are deployed in the National Guard and Army Reserve.

“These children are often referred to as geographically dispersed, which normally means they have a parent or parents in the National Guard or Reserves, and the children are living off base and somewhat separated from kids who are having similar experiences,” Schexnayder said.

Schexnayder said Louisiana has an unusually high number of military deployments compared to other areas of the country.

“Most people wouldn’t know this, but Louisiana is ranked No. 12 out of, not just the nation, but all the places where we have military bases in terms of deployment,” she said.

Some Louisiana service personnel have been deployed three or four times, requiring them to be away from their families for years, Schexnayder said.

“We have 18,000 military children in Louisiana, and we’re trying to reach out to each of them to let them know that they are not alone and that they are part of the community and that we are here to support them with what they need,” she said.

Schexnayder said Susan Thornton, an I CARE specialist in East Baton Rouge schools, is working with students in Polk, University Terrace, Buchanan and Dufrocq elementary schools on the Valentine’s Day activity.

I CARE is a program in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System that provides prevention education to students in the areas of alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, violence, and crisis response and management.

“On Feb. 9, we’re going to collect the cards and send them to our troops overseas and to the children of the military deployed,” Schexnayder said.

Schexnayder explained that Valentine’s Day can be a lonely time for these children.

“They missed their parents at Thanksgiving, and they missed them at Christmas. But for many of these children, Valentine’s Day is a very special time, also,” Schnexnayder said.

Thornton said the idea for this project came partially from President Obama’s inaugural address and partly from Michelle Obama’s dedication to military families.

For additional information on the Operation: Military Kids program, contact Kathleen Schexnayder at (225) 578-2169 or kschexnayder@agcenter.lsu.edu.

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Contact: Kathleen Schexnayder at (225) 578-2196 or kschexnayder@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writer: Johnny Morgan at (225) 578-8484 or jmorgan@agcenter.lsu.edu  

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