‘The week of a lifetime,” “A blessing,” and “A 100 on a scale of 1 to 10”: These are just a few of the things that young campers are saying about a unique experience born in North Carolina, with help of 4-H specialists at N.C. State University.
The program, called Camp Corral, is the brainchild of James Maynard, co-founder of the Golden Corral restaurant chain. During 2013, 2,211 children from military families spent a fun-filled week at one of 18 camps in 14 states.
4-H Camping Specialist Larry Hancock, who has worked with the program since its inception, explained that Maynard wanted to offer the camps as a way for his company to increase its impact on military families. Golden Corral got its start in military communities in southeastern North Carolina, and it has worked to honor and support disabled American veterans for more than a decade.
A partnership with North Carolina 4-H made sense, Hancock said, because 4-H has long worked to understand and create awareness of the issues and stresses military families face and to build community partnerships to support children in these families.
“With 4-H’s camping experts delivering a quality-camp experience, Golden Corral and its customers were able to provide the support for the campers to attend,” he said. “It worked like magic.”
Camp Corral got its start in 2011 at North Carolina’s Millstone 4-H Camp, in the Sandhills region, with three one-week sessions. More than 300 children from military families took part.
The camps are designed for children, ages 8 to 15, whose parents are serving or have served in the military. Preference goes to those children whose mother, father or other close relative has been wounded, disabled or died in service. Golden Corral pays all the campers’ expenses, except for travel to and from camp. All the camps take place at YMCA and 4-H facilities.
The camps focus on such traditional activities as swimming, canoeing, hiking, arts and crafts, archery, horseback riding and challenge courses, Hancock said. And campers spend their evenings around campfires or singing, playing games or talking in their cabins.
Each camp also holds a military appreciation day or hero day. Camp directors work with area military installations and National Guard and military reservists to display equipment such as helicopters, Jeeps and Humvees. Service members also spend time with campers.
“It is a week where kids are free to just be kids in a safe, secure, nurturing environment,” Hancock added. “It is a respite, a time when kids are separated from the day-to-day challenges of military families.
“They have fun, and at the same time they build life skills, friendships and memories that will last them a lifetime.”
Find out more about Camp Corral at http://www.campcorral.org.
— Dee Shore