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Camp Corral rounds up military kids

By Julie Fiedler | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | August 14, 2014

JUNCTION CITY – Traveling from station to station, children chatted excitedly about horseback riding, archery, arts and crafts and other camp activities. Some splashed in the pool, while others launched homemade boats in a nearby stream. Some sifted through creek water to find leeches and crawfish. It seemed like a typical day at camp.

But this was Camp Corral, and all the campers were military children.

“So many of our campers come in to us, and they are shut down,” said Mike Spohn, camp director, Camp Corral, Rock Springs 4-H Center. They don’t have a lot of connections with folks that feel the same way they do or have had the same experiences that they (have). Here, the campers and their cabin-mates are in that same boat. They understand what it’s like to have a father deployed or a mother deployed for nine months or a year. They understand what it’s like to find out on very short notice that their father that’s a (Reserve Soldier) is being called up. They understand what it’s like to have a mother come home who has (post traumatic stress disorder).”

Camp Corral is a free weeklong camp for military children, founded by Golden Corral in 2011 as a way to serve families who served the nation. Priority attendance is given to children of wounded, disabled or fallen warriors, but the camps are open to children of service members from all branches of service to give them a week of a lifetime.

What started as a single pilot camp has grown to 20 camps in 16 states, including the local camp, which ran from July 13 to 18 at the Rock Springs 4-H Center in Junction City.

“These kids are very, very strong,” said Margaret Waymire, counselor. “It is great seeing them be able to be kids for a week and not have to carry around the burdens that they sometimes do.”

The camp allows children to be kids regardless of what’s going on at home, Spohn agreed.

“This week, they have the opportunity to just cut loose … and that’s the whole intention of the camp,” he said.

The campers seemed to enjoy cutting loose.

“All the activities were awesome,” said Chase Ream, 10, who attended Camp Corral for the second year this summer.

“I learned a lot of new things, and I really enjoy that I can take some of those things back home,” added Kayana Harman, 10.

Beyond the fun, the camp can be life-changing, Spohn said.

“We want them to have that traditional camp experience, so that means they are learning life skills,” he said. “They have takeaways they’re going home with, and they’re having fun. They don’t realize the lessons that they’re walking away with.”

Spohn rattled off story after story of children he’s seen positively affected by attending the camp.

One such camper was Skylin Hastings, who attended camp for two years and came back as a counselor for the first time this year.

“Skylin has (had) an amazing transformation,” Spohn said. “She’s done a phenomenal job this year.”

Skylin said she’s struggled with depression, anger and anxiety and that her fellow students at school didn’t understand what she faced as a military child.

“Not everyone understood what I had to go through, like making friends and transitioning,” she said.

But Camp Corral was different.

“To me, it’s just nice to find people that I can relate to,” she said of her fellow campers. “I think it was a great experience (as a camper) … It’s just changed me for the better.”

Skylin developed a deeper appreciation for the military and what her father does. She also said she has learned to empathize with others. Through that, she said, she has found her own inner strength.

“Ever since I came here, I found my strength to keep going … I’ve learned that I’m strong enough to hold on to anything that I put my mind to,” she said. “‘A week-of-a-lifetime’ - it’s not just a saying. It is the real deal.”

As Spohn recalled Skylin’s first night at camp three years ago and how far she’s come, he choked up.

“To see the young lady she is … (I’m) pretty proud,” he said.

When asked if she felt proud, Skylin said, “I do, and I wouldn’t be able to feel this if I wasn’t here.”
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