Support Military Kids: Transformative Camp Experiences with Camp Maple Leaf
He was the kind of kid other camps may have sent home.
April Young (camp nickname: Calypso) is the director of Camp Maple Leaf, a summer camp for the children of Canadian military families, both active and Veteran. On the first night of camp, long after lights-out, April was called to one of the cabins by a worried counselor. A young camper was sobbing on the porch and refusing to go inside.
April sat next to him and asked what was happening. “I have social anxiety and I get claustrophobia in a bunk bed with people sleeping above me,” he admitted.
“Another camp may have put the camper up in the office overnight and sent him home the next day,” says April. But she, the counselor, and the camper came up with a solution: the camper would sleep on his mattress on the floor in the middle of the room, with the counselor on their mattress beside him for support.
“The next morning, he sees me and says, “Hey, Calypso! Guess what? I slept on the floor and fell asleep right away!” That night, with his cabinmates encouraging him, he slept on the floor again. The following night, he slept on the floor with no counselor – “I don’t need him,” he said – and he slept on his mattress on the floor for the rest of the time at camp. After the first night, Calypso told his parents what had happened and the new sleeping plan. “They offered to come pick him up, but I said, ‘No worries, he’s doing great.”
It’s this combination of compassion, solutions focus, problem solving, and staff support that makes Camp Maple Leaf a respite for children of military families, who have unique struggles compared to their civilian peers. While military kids are known for their maturity and resilience, it can come at a price: April notes that problems with anxiety are mentioned on many of the children’s camp applications.
“Through the sacrifice of their families, the kids have to grow up before their time,” says April. Between moving – sometimes mid-school year – packing and unpacking and having to make new friends, campers often talk about a huge amount of change in their lives. “They can be expected to take on extra responsibilities for an absent parent with younger siblings or give up programs and activities they enjoyed. Perhaps one of the hardest things that the children have to live with are the Operational Stress Injuries that their parents have acquired from their service.”
Creating a feeling of safety while encouraging campers to extend and challenge themselves is the “secret sauce” of Camp Maple Leaf, and it informs everything at camp, starting with the bus ride on the first day, where counselors are trained to seat campers based on shared interests – that way, they’ve made their first social connection even before they arrive at camp.
Funding from True Patriot Love enables both Veterans and serving members of the armed forces to send their kids to camp. Funding also supports Camp Maple Leaf’s leadership program for counselors in training and its Kids of Heroes session for kids whose parents have an Operational Stress Injury. This session incorporates traditional camp activities with more intentional activities focusing on education, communication, and support.
When COVID cancelled camp in 2020, True Patriot Love also helped fund the FUNvelope full of activities and crafts that was sent free to families. “It’s like True Patriot Love is saying ‘You have the military families’ backs, we have yours,'” says April.
The week at Maple Leaf flies quickly but April and her staff want campers’ accomplishments and friendships to sustain them throughout the changes that military life imposes. “Kids are told on the last night, ‘Make sure to keep in touch so the friendships that you made here follow you home – no matter what base you go to, Camp is your home base.'”
On Giving Tuesday, please help True Patriot Love provide funding for children and youth to go to camp in 2024. And remember, every donation today will be matched (up to $25,000) so your gift will have twice the impact!
– True Patriot Love Foundation