As military families struggle to provide normalcy for their kids, Operation Hero is here to help.
There was a little boy. His name was Silas, and Silas was painfully shy.
“This is the first time Silas has ever had friends,” said his dad. “We’re a military family and while we were stationed in Korea, we didn't have an interpreter to allow us to do programs like this. The other night, Silas came home to say, ‘This is so cool that I finally have friends that are my age.’”
Civilian parents rarely need to think about having to actively help their kids make friends. There are Parks & Rec programs, neighborhood kids, the children they sit with on the bus year after year – there’s a comfort in that consistency. But for military kids, every time they move, they must think about the little things, “Who will I sit with at lunch? Play with at recess? Go to the park with?” And sometimes, they have only their siblings with whom to connect.
Silas's dad was stationed at Ft. Bragg after their time in Korea. When the family arrived, they learned about the Armed Services YMCA and the Operation Hero program available to them. Operation Hero is a free, 10-week afterschool program that creates a fun and safe environment for kids to receive academic and emotional support to adjust to unique challenges and the effects of military life on families. Including things like frequent moves and parents being deployed.
Coming out of his shell
In the first week, Silas wouldn’t even eat a snack. As the second and third weeks rolled around, he started opening up, sharing snacks and chatting with other children. By the eighth week, he was doing cartwheels with his friends, excited to join in the fun and taking home the topics that were being discussed in the program. His teacher was thrilled to see the improvement.
“By the time we hit week eight, we're just rocking and rolling with Silas. He was so excited,” recalls his teacher, Nicole. “And then I remember Silas completely melting down during weeks nine and ten, because he found out he was moving again. He knew that whole process was going to be ripped from him.”
Silas’ dad had received orders to move to Georgia for a two-year training course. Silas was crushed.
His mom’s priority became making sure that the next station had a local ASYMCA affiliate. “Without this in the world that we live in – you can't just go to a park anymore and just let kids run free and hope they find a friend – this is the most organized fun he could have, and I feel safe dropping him off,” his mom said. “It truly affected Silas, his communication, how much he valued friends, all of those little things.”
This is why Operation Hero is so important.
“We are their steady. We are their consistency,” said Nicole. It sounds silly, but in the military world, ten weeks is a long time to be able to form a schedule with the same faces and the same friends. It’s something to look forward to whether mom and dad are gone, and they know, Operation Hero will be the same.”
Programs, such as Operation Hero, are provided free or at a low cost to military families through generous donations by people like you. It is the mission of Armed Services YMCA to expand these services to a greater number of children at the installations where these programs are already available and begin to provide these military family support programs where they are not yet in place.
During his time at Ft. Bragg and subsequently, the Armed Services YMCA, Silas was one of the lucky ones. Currently, the program at Ft. Bragg serves only 15 families in each 10-week program, and the program is offered at only a fraction of the military installations across the country.
Please give today to ensure children like Silas have access to this life-changing program. You have the power to serve these children on behalf of the men and women who are selflessly serving our country.