A camp for kids coping with war wounds of a parent
Camp COPE has helped more than 1,000 children in places ranging from Texas to Florida.
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Adrienne Snow says her third-grade daughter, Jasmyne, has been more emotional since her dad came back a year ago with hearing loss and a brain injury. "I'm hoping she gets to know other children and that she's not the only one going through it.... I think this program is ... over-needed here."Skip to next paragraph
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Wiggling in their places on a classroom floor, the 5- to 7-year-olds who have a wounded parent are excited about a bag of colored rubber bracelets. Jennifer Cowen, one of the program's licensed counselors, takes out a blue one that says "COURAGE." "Every one of you shows courage every day," she says. "Even when things are hard, you just keep trying."
"My dad got really hurt," Kevin says. "After the tank blew up, he was about to die ... but he didn't." As he mimics an explosion with flailing arms and sound effects, Ms. Cowen asks, "Do you think your dad was scared?" Without missing a beat, he says, "No, 'cause he's Army strong." She pauses before probing: "But do you think it's OK to be scared?" He nods. "Your dad showed a lot of courage," she says.
The people we love are still the same after an injury, Cowen assures her little troops. "It's not his legs that made your dad, right?" she asks Ethan, whose stepfather lost both legs in Iraq and spends most of his time in physical therapy.
He nods and smiles: "My dad has prosthetics ... and he has hot-pink knees!"
Across the hall, the 8- to 11-year-olds with counselor Amy Tindell use sunglasses as a reminder for "optimism." "I don't like the military because many people got injured," 9-year-old Maria says. "But on the bright side," she slides the glasses from the top of her head onto her nose, "we're safe here." (For more on Camp COPE, see CSMonitor.com.)
For "patience," they practice letting out their feelings through popping balloons and talking to "worry dolls." "Encouragement" takes the form of letters to other military children. Tanner, Ethan's 10-year-old brother, writes in yellow and red marker: "Don't panic. Everything is good. You are not alone."
In a dramatic move near the end of the day, each counselor takes a hammer to a terra cotta flower pot. The children draw or write something to show the way their families were before the war (on the inside of a piece of the pot) and the way they are now (on the outside). Like their family, "the flower pot's never going to be like it was, but you can still put a plant in there and it can still thrive," Reep says.
"This was the coolest day of my life!" Jasmyne exclaims as her mother arrives to pick her up at 3:30.
A few days later, Ms. Snow says Jasmyne has already begun using coping skills such as punching a pillow and writing in a journal, and "she doesn't get upset as easily anymore."
The expertise the Camp COPE counselors have brought to Fort Riley is "incredible," says Denise Ott, director of the Military Affairs Council of Junction City/Geary County, a local coordinating agency. "Our military kids go through a lot that typical children don't have to worry about. There are 6-year-olds that can tell you intimately about an IED [improvised explosive device].... But as much as it is hard and sad to see some of these kids, you also have to look around and see moments of brilliance. Look at what they go through and how well they do."
•For more information, visit websites www.campcope.org and www.nmfa.org.