Earlier this month, I traveled overseas to tour our affiliated Youth Centers on three U.S. military installations. My itinerary: Ramstein Air Base and U.S. Army Garrison Weisbaden in Germany; and the U.S. Naval Base in Naples, Italy.
Military kids have unique needs. The deployment of a parent, for example, can be stressful. Depending on their age, a child may not entirely understand why their parent is gone. The transience of military life can also be difficult. By the time they finish high school, the average military kid has moved nine times. That’s a lot of time spent being the “new kid” in town. Imagine leaving everything you know – friends, school, activities – and starting from scratch all over again. Then multiply that by nine.
Given these needs, Boys & Girls Clubs of America began working with the Department of Defense in 1992 to help support our military youth. Youth Centers help members build resilience to overcome challenges. They provide kids with access to Boys & Girls Club programming, special events, camps and scholarships. Because their extracurricular options are often limited to what is offered on the installation, overseas military kids really rely on Youth Centers for after-school activities.
Couldn't resist a quick game of pong at Ramstein Youth Center.
In discussions with Youth Center staff and military personnel, I came away with some valuable insights as to how we can uphold, and even enhance, our support. We talked about strategies, how we might better connect and help not only families of active military personnel, but those re-entering civilian life, as well.
Military kids need our support today more than ever. Nearly 2 million young people have a parent serving in the military; 430,000 more have a parent in the Reserve or National Guard. Without appropriate support systems, military kids can be at a major disadvantage compared to their peers in non-military families. But we’re not going to let that happen. Just as their parents have dedicated themselves to defending our great nation and its values, we at Boys & Girls Clubs are committed to giving the children of our brave warriors they support they need.
It was an inspirational trip. There’s a lot of energy at the command level for our partnership, with top military staff very enthusiastic and appreciative of what we do for kids. As a Movement, we should be proud of what military families are doing to keep our nation safe. The support we provide is a small but critical contribution to our military families and the sacrifices they make so that we can live in a free country.