Johnny Morgan, Lawson, Christina
BATON ROUGE, La. – Before the LSU AgCenter’s Operation Military Kids program began, Louisiana children who were not connected to a military base felt detached and alone, but this is changing, according to Christina Lawson, the program’s coordinator.
Children whose parents are in the National Guard or Reserves typically don’t have an attachment to a military base, so they are unlikely to have friends who are experiencing the loneliness of having a parent or parents deployed.
“Our Louisiana National Guard and Reserves have deployed a lot in the past few years,” Lawson said.
This can put stress on the families of the deployed service personnel in general, but it can add specific stress on the children, Lawson said.
The LSU AgCenter is helping to make that connection through camps, training and other fun activities.
The Louisiana OMK program is coordinated by Lawson through the LSU AgCenter 4-H Youth Development Department.
The Louisiana OMK program depends on partners like the American Red Cross, Louisiana 4-H, Louisiana National Guard, the Louisiana Department of Education, Boys and Girls Club and ICare that help bring happiness to thousands of kids across the state.
“We work closely with our partners,” she said. “And we will work closely with any other group with interest in military kids.”
The children in the program may live too far from a military base to maintain long-term relationships with other military kids. So OMK offers an opportunity for these children and the parents or caregivers to come together for a fall and a spring camp each year to bond and share experiences.
“Some of the children we have in the program are the only military kids in their class, and this can be stressful because sometimes they feel that nobody understands what they are going through,” she said.
Lawson said that’s when the camps and overnight trips are most needed.
“Not long ago, we had a shy, young boy come to camp, and at first he wouldn’t talk to anybody or make friends. But it didn’t take long for the other students to get him out of his shell,” Lawson said.
“Yellow ribbon” events are also helpful in the development process of these youth.
These events help with the reintegration of deployed parents into family life. Some activities at these events include canoeing and archery.
Louisiana’s OMK program sponsors two Lagniappe Camps every year, which consist of one night and two days of fun activities.
Lawson said she has close family in the military, and she’s about to marry into a military family. She said her experiences help her to empathize with the children in the program.
“Our goal is to help the children to make friends with children like them who are going through similar situations,” she said. “A lot of the children feel they are different, but it’s just fun to see them open up and become comfortable.”
Additional information on the Operation Military Kids program and upcoming camps is available from Lawson at 225-578-2196 or on the LSU AgCenter website at www.LSUAgCenter.com.