Idaho Military Division Public Affairs/Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur
The Idaho National Guard’s Service Member and Family Support held two Child and Youth Program summer camps in Challis, Idaho, during June. The annual camp took place over two weeks to accommodate COVID-19 protocols.
The camp was the first for military children ages 10 and up from around the state in more than 18 months. Youth from the Treasure Valley, Eastern Idaho and Northern Idaho joined together in Challis for a four-day, fun-filled camp that also taught them valuable lessons on friendship and resiliency.
“The camp is not just for fun, although it’s a ton of fun, but we also build resiliency training into our curriculum,” said Nick Wagner, Child and Youth Program coordinator. “This year in particular we focused on communication with the campers, because we haven’t had a camp for a year and a half and the youth may be struggling with that going back out into society after COVID. We wanted to bring that factor into this summer’s camp, to learn the communication needed to appropriately treat and respect our peers, opponents and our teammates.”
The Idaho National Guard has hosted summer and winter camps for more than 15 years and each year the coordinators work to continuously improve the program by closing each camp with a session that lets campers speak about what they liked or didn’t like about the camp.
“I like that you can always meet new friends and then you can see them at other camps or events,” said Ashton Danielson, a fourth-time camper whose dad serves in the Idaho Army National Guard at Gowen Field. “You’ll always have those friends but you can continue to meet new ones because if you see someone alone or that doesn’t have a friend, you go and include them. I like that about these camps.”
The program focuses on camp activities that help military youth grow, become more resilient and gain confidence. Each year they find more ways for activities to focus on the campers helping each other, motivating one another and working together while learning about sportsmanship, resiliency and coping with change during each challenge or activity.
Campers are broken into teams to allow for friendly competition and the sense of belonging to a group and working together for a common goal. They participate in events such vader ball, obstacle courses, archery tag, relay races, tug of war, 9-square, spike ball, yard games, basketball, volleyball, baseball and gaga ball. Additionally, campers were able to use their free time to create arts and crafts, make time capsules and learn 4-H activities with the Idaho National Guard’s College of Idaho 4-H partnership.
Campers also enjoyed a slip ‘n slide, performed campfire skits and had an end of camp dance party.
The camp continued to follow strict guidelines for COVID safety and protocol and held two camps broken down into smaller crowd numbers to accommodate these guidelines.
“We’ve had to get creative the past year and a half and come up with ways to reach out to our youth virtually,” said Wagner. “And this summer getting back into it, we had to break it into two camps to keep within the 50-person guidelines.”
During each camp, volunteers and chaperones ensure a safe and successful camp. Six teen counselors were present to help lead sessions, support resiliency, help make connections and provide positive influence for the youth. Wagner said the camp could not successfully run without the volunteers, teen counselors and chaperones.
“I have been coming to this camp as either a camper or volunteer for 15 years, for a total of 30 camps,” said Cloe Muthiora, a camp volunteer who was recognized recently with the 2020 National Guard Bureau Youth Development Volunteer Award for her time spent volunteering to the families of the Idaho National Guard. “I started coming when I was 10 and then came back as a chaperone once I was old enough and have been chaperoning ever since. This program is the reason I am who I am. I am a teacher now and I have leadership positions in other organizations because I grew up involved in this program, developing those skills. I started learning leadership skills when I was just 14, which gave me so many opportunities to explore who I wanted to be and become the best version of myself.”
The next camp will be the Winter Bash, held in January.
“Our Child and Youth Program is a great resource offered to military families,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Dean, Idaho Army National Guard senior enlisted leader. “I have been an advocate of this program ever since I had the pleasure of chaperoning a camp and that is when I came to fully support and promote this program. Whether it’s a summer camp, winter camp or a routine get together, this is a great opportunity for our kids to meet other military children who they can relate to with the struggles that sometimes comes with being a military kid compared to other kids in their community.”