Camp Hometown Heroes is a national free week-long overnight summer camp for children and siblings between the ages of seven to seventeen of fallen U.S. service members who died in any manner: combat, accident, illness or suicide. During their visit to camp, perhaps for the first time in their young lives, the children have the opportunity to openly discuss their feelings and experiences. Through the support of pediatric grief specialists, the children partake in art and music therapy programs and optional discussion groups.
The children are afforded the opportunity to enjoy typical summer camp activities such as swimming, dance, arts and crafts, archery, drama, canoeing, fishing, climbing and more. But more importantly, the children are given many opportunities to begin or continue the healing process. Often the loss began before death when the service member was deployed. There can be years of missing that loved one and anticipating what might happen to them. When a death actually does occur, these children are put in a life category that not many understand. That’s where Camp Hometown Heroes comes in. Unlike many other camps for fallen service members, at Camp Hometown Heroes the children attend camp without their caregivers. We want this week to be one of significant personal growth. Attending without their adult caregiver(s) allows them to experience greater independence and self-discovery. Some came on a wing and a prayer not knowing what they would find so far away from home. Leaving surviving family was nerve-wracking in itself for some. For many of the children, the travel to and from camp is part of the experience. Many of the children have rarely (if ever) flown before. Traveling to Wisconsin from as far away as Hawaii, Idaho, California, and Washington is part of the adventure of Camp Hometown Heroes. Upon arrival, the children immediately realize they share a sad common bond. Yet, it is this common bond that allows us to create an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance. In working with pediatric grief specialists from Kyle’s Korner these children who have lost so much learn how to deal with the loss they have suffered. When someone says “I know how you feel”, it’s true. This could be called “Empathy Camp“ because hearts which have suffered recognize suffering in another heart. At the end of a week, all hearts are connected. We cannot begin to make up for what has been lost. We can only hope to honor the memories of those who gave their lives for our country. And we can strive to be sure that their children know both they and their loved one have not been forgotten. Yontz Valor Foundation has been an annual supporter of Camp Hometown Heroes for many years as they believe there is no greater gift to these children than the gift of hope.