Youth camp combines fun, education to build resilience, leadership and character

Campers at the 2016 Virginia National Guard Youth Camp enjoy a wide variety of activities including laser tag, creating an emergency preparedness pillowcase and robotic programing taught by the staff of Winchester STARBASE July 26, 2016. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Campers at the 2016 Virginia National Guard Youth Camp enjoy a wide variety of activities including laser tag, creating an emergency preparedness pillowcase and robotic programing taught by the staff of Winchester STARBASE July 26, 2016. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

CAMP PENDLETON, Va. — More than 80 kids took part in a variety of activities from laser tag to robotics at the 11th annual Youth Summer Camp hosted by the Virginia National Guard Family Programs Office July 24-29, at Camp Pendleton in Virignia Beach, Virginia.

“Youth camp brings together National Guard youth, teens and adults from around Virginia to participate in six days of projects and activities that target Science Technology, Engineering and Math as well as resilience, leadership and character building,” explained Joe Duerksen, lead youth and child coordinator for Virginia National Guard Family Programs .

A number of different partner organizations bring activities to camp for fun and education, Duerksen said. The Winchester STARBASE Academy showed campers how to build and mechanize small robots, the Virginia 4-H taught food science through information from MyPlate.gov, and Red Cross taught disaster preparedness using items that fit into a pillowcase.

Campers also took part in a laser tag course with a program on leadership and team development, and a new addition to the camp activities gave youth the chance to participate in the challenge course at a nearby aquarium.

“Campers overcame obstacles and created new connections as they climbed, crawled and zipped through the treetops,” Duerksen said. He added that despite their busy activity schedule, time and space is built in for campers to share their lives and stories with each other.

A vital part of the camp’s success is the volunteer teens and adults who give their time to provide mentorship and host activities, he said. “We could not have had the connections that were made this year without the tireless support of all the teens and adults who came out to volunteer during the week. As I say every year, they are the ones who truly make camp special.”

One of the highlights of the week was the Flag Retirement Ceremony led by Staff Sgt. Brian Merritt, a local Virginia National Guard recruiter.

“The ceremony took special meaning for many of the kids this year with so many of their parents currently on deployment,” Duerksen said. “The Youth Camp holds a significant place in drawing together the greater National Guard Family in support of these children for this very reason.”

Duerksen said that because of the increase in Virginia National Guard deployments, this year they really tried to create activities that connected our campers.

More than 1,500 Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen will continue, begin or complete a federal mobilization in 2916.

“We are very proud of the support this camp receives throughout the state.” said Vickie Sais, state family programs director. “These kids get a wonderful opportunity to build friendships that last. Programs like this are important during this season of deployments.”