The last day of summer camp is always bittersweet—full of hugs and promises to stay in touch. The moment was particularly poignant for the 70 kids attending Military Kids Dunes Discovery Camp at Dunes Learning Center—who have already experienced too many difficult good-byes in their young lives. “One thing that surprised me about this camp was how many people were like me,” said one departing camper.
Organizers say that’s an important element of the camp. “Being a military kid can be extraordinarily stressful,” says Ryan Wynkoop, Special Projects Coordinator at Purdue Extension. “The week that these kids spend in the dunes provides them with memories and experiences that will last a lifetime, but most importantly they learn skills to help them navigate the deployment of a loved one.”
A partnership between Operation Military Kids and Dunes Learning Center, administered by Purdue Extension, Military Kids Dunes Discovery Camp is a 6-day overnight camp just for children of military families. While at camp, children participate in activities that promote resilience and provide opportunities to share “good stuff.” Megan, a 13 year old camper with a parent in the Air Force, sums it up, “It is a good way to meet kids that understand what you are going through.” Zoe, whose parent serves in the Army, agrees. “It is important for me to meet other military kids because no one else understands.”
The camp is free to military families, thanks to a combination of federal funding, grants and individual donations. Dunes Learning Center Executive Director, Geof Benson, is thrilled to once again host the camp, now in its fourth year. “The parents are doing a great job serving our country. The least we can do is provide their kids with a week at camp."
Located at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, Dunes Learning Center is a nonprofit providing outdoor experiences to thousands of students each year in partnership with Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Nearly 35% of those attending—like the “military kid” campers—pay little-to-no tuition thanks to fundraising efforts like their upcoming “River Rendezvous,” says Dunes Learning Center Director of Marketing and Development, Sandi Weindling. That event will take place on September 13 at the newly remodeled Spa Restaurant and Special Event Center in Porter. Learn more or donate online at www.duneslearningcenter.org.