For children in military families, a seemingly simple question – “Where are you from?” – can sometimes be the most difficult to answer.
“It’s hard because you feel like you have to be really specific,” says 14-year-old Grace Pryor, who has lived at a U.S. naval base in Bahrain, just east of Saudi Arabia, for the past year. Before that, she lived in Chicago. Next, she’ll go with her family to Guam.
This summer, however, Grace (pictured left) and ten other teenagers stationed in Bahrain, as well as eight from a naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, traveled to Garrett County, Maryland to participate in a unique camp designed just for them.
Maryland 4-H received a $25,000 grant through the USDA/NIFA 4-H Navy Military Partnership to develop a STEM-focused camp for teenagers living at bases overseas.
“I knew it would be a great way to highlight and focus on the great 4-H STEM programs we have in Maryland,” says Sandy Corridon, a 4-H youth development specialist who also serves as the state’s liaison for the national 4-H military program.
4-H has a presence on military bases worldwide as a way to support youth who don’t have a chance to put down roots the way other children do.
“They move all the time. Every few years. Most of them are in a single-parent household the majority of the time while the other parent is away,” says Erneshia Perkins, a teen center program assistant in Yokosuka, Japan.
The teens who participated in the STEM camp in Maryland had to submit a video application for the chance to attend. Students from Japan took a 15-hour plane ride while those from Bahrain were in the air for a day and a half. During their ten-day visit to Maryland, they were treated to a blend of activities focused on robotics, science and engineering mixed in with opportunities to explore Maryland’s history and natural beauty.
The Garrett Engineering and Robotics Society – better known as GEARS – has a unique facility in the town of Accident that serves as a hub for 4-H clubs in the area. Teens in the Navy STEM camp had a chance to interact with local 4-Hers at the GEARS facility and tried their hands at making and controlling their own robots.
The group also spent time at the 4-H campgrounds in Garrett County hiking, canoeing, shooting rifles, learning archery and holding snakes. However, it was the typical “American” activities many of the campers seemed to enjoy most. For instance, other than whitewater rafting, 14-year-old Hannah Lemon’s favorite activity was a shopping trip to Wal-Mart.
“My favorite part was the food – especially spaghetti,” says 16-year-old Isaiah Crutch, who also ranked Wal-Mart high on his list of favorite activities.
“Being a military child, you don’t usually go to camp so this is giving them experiences they wouldn’t normally get and showing them that someone other than their parents care,” says Perkins. “It’s a way to say, ‘Since your parents are serving, this is what we can do to serve you.’”
While friendships were forged between teens from both naval bases, as well as with Maryland 4-Hers, saying goodbye at the end of the ten days is something that comes naturally for these military youth.
“You can’t get too attached,” says 16-year-old Aerial West. “You get desensitized – just say goodbye and move on.”
While these teens might not have a chance to stay in any one location for long, the hope is that 4-H will be there for them wherever they are in the world.
“Whether they come back to Maryland one day, or wherever, having that connection with 4-H helps them with their transition, resilience, stability and growth and development,” says Corridon. “That’s the whole point.”
This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2012-48749-20178.