From left, Taylor Deady of Cable, Ohio, Samantha Dunn of Chillicothe, Ohio, and Rachel Harris of Columbus find push-ups are more fun if they have a sense of humor during Operation: Military Kids.
KELLEYS ISLAND, Ohio - Dillon Timbrook said he doesn't ask his father if he's going to be deployed again anytime soon, because he doesn't want to hear the answer.
"I don't like to ask because if he says, 'Yes,' I don't get too happy," he said of his father, Mike Timbrook, who was recently called to active duty for two months.
Yet the 11-year-old Perrysburg Township boy said he feels better about his family's situation after talking with other kids who know what he's going through.
"If [other parents] are gone longer than my dad, then I'm not so sad," Dillon said.
And this week, he has a whole camp full of children he can talk to between karate lessons, canoeing, crafts, fishing, line dancing, archery, and physical fitness exercises, among other fun activities.
More than 145 children are spending the week camping on Kelleys Island as part of the "Operation: Military Kids" national initiative designed to help youth find positive ways to cope with the stress of their parents' deployments.
Maggie Johnston of Elyria, Ohio, said the experience was good for her last year when she was a camper, which is why she is back this year as a counselor.
Cameron Corbett of Warren, Ohio, gets a kick out of karate class as he learns some new moves at Operation: Military Kids at the 4-H camp on Kelleys Island.
"It's a good thing for the kids who have parents deployed so they don't sit around and worry," said the 15-year-old whose mother, Sandy, is leaving in a few months with the U.S. Army Reserve.
Ohio's outreach effort, administered through the Ohio State University Extension's 4-H Youth Development Program, is geared toward children between ages 9 and 14 who live throughout the state.
Of the campers, 28 percent have a parent currently deployed, 20 percent have a parent preparing for deployment, and 40 percent have a parent who has recently returned from a deployment. The rest come from military families. The hope is that all the youngsters will forge some camaraderie and understanding with one another, said Larry Hall of Mount Vernon, Ohio.
"We're trying to build some resiliency for kids with parents who are deployed," he said.
On top of that, campers get to spend Tuesday through Saturday doing what kids do best - playing and having fun.
Though more than two dozen kids were supposed to be canoeing in Lake Erie yesterday morning, most found themselves in the water more than they were in the boats.
Toledoan Chris Eschareno helps campers with compasses on Kelleys Island. Ohio s outreach effort in the nationwide initiative is geared to children from ages 9 through 14.
Lorna Caron, 10, of Toledo said she and her two fellow rowers found themselves in the lake "only about five or six times" while practicing canoeing. Since they were already soaked after their lesson was over, she and many of the other campers ran onto the beach, peeled off their wet clothes, jumped back in the water in their bathing suits, and promptly started splashing each other with the cold water.
Though most had only known each other for a day, the campers quickly bonded through their similar situations and shared experiences, said Theresa Ferrari, a 4-H youth development specialist with OSU Extension. "They come here as strangers," she said, "but they leave as friends."
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