Hit the slopes to support youth, families experiencing deployment

by Mona Hamilton
Director of Ramstein Youth Services

Recent cold weather and snow created challenges for some and opportunities for others. For the Family Member Programs Flight, the conditions created the perfect
setting to reach out to families experiencing deployment.

The first ever pre-teen winter adventure camp, conducted over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, warmed the spirits of 25 pre-teens, ages 9 to 16, dealing with the deployment of a loved one.

The camp was developed by Dorothy Choate, chief of Family Member Programs, and Stan Cindrity, Ramstein teen director, and is supported through a grant from Headquarters Air Force Services Child and Youth Programs.

The idea was inspired as part of the FMP initiative to find innovative and meaningful ways to reach out to families experiencing deployment.

The goal of this project was providing a break for parents while giving youth the opportunity to experience skiing at world-class locations, enjoy Bavarian culture, develop connections with other kids dealing with deployment and learn some new skills for coping with stress and the highs and lows of having a family member far away.

“I loved learning how to ski and really enjoyed spending time with my friends and counselors,” said Morgan Foot, a fifth-grader at Ramstein Intermediate School.
During the day, a team of five adults worked with the kids to develop skills in snowboarding, skiing, orientating and winter safety.

The program was individualized to provide ways for each youth to challenge themselves to try something new, from the beginners who felt like champions because they were able to make a run without falling, to more advanced athletes who set personal goals to beat run times for themselves or raced new friends.
Helping each child find success builds the self-esteem and confidence of the kids, empowering them to work through challenges they will face during deployments like not having a parent there to share daily experiences, feelings of fear for the safety of their family member or frustration at having to take on more responsibilities.

After hours, a whole other realm of fun and learning began. Program counselors conducted debriefs with youth that focused on lessons learned, program improvements to meet youth needs and interactive games like twister and team building. These activities and games provided fun while teaching skills in problem solving and communication.

The bonds that were formed helped youth realize they are not alone and that other youth and adults can empathize and provide support.

For youth whose parents are about to deploy or have just recently left, they were able to ask questions, share fears and gain insights from those who have already
experienced multiple deployments or just had parents return.

The natural give-and-take is supportive of all stages of the deployment cycle. Mentorship with caring adults has been found to be a pivotal factor in successful navigation of the challenges of deployment. The positive bonds with our youth development professionals will carry on and provide an outlet for stress relief for youth well beyond the weekend.

One special highlight of the trip was the presence of Cuzzie the Bear. Cuzzie is a character developed by children’s author Trevor Romain and the star of the FMP Cuzzie Cares Kit. Kits with Cuzzie, photo scrapbooks, journals and stationary were recently distributed to KMC children.

This friend is another outlet for youth to express their concerns, fears and frustrations. Youth on the ski trip were able to offer suggestions and ideas for the deployment kits and Cuzzie character.

Their thoughts were shared in a recent focus group, working to develop a Cuzzie Kit for teens – just another way FMP is reaching out to KMC families.
Caleb Arroyo, 10, said, “skiing with Cuzzie is fun.”

Our older teens were also involved in this adventure weekend. Three teens served as junior chaperones, helping to mentor their younger peers, sharing secrets of being a successful military kid and making it through deployment.

Kyle Soliday, one teen working on certification as a ski instructor, made a special connection with the youth, sharing a passion for the slopes as well as life lessons in organization, independence, goal setting and turning challenges into learning opportunities. His presence was a favorite of the kids, being voted best group leader.

Three additional ski trips are planned over the coming months, two for teens ages 14 to 18 and one for pre-teens ages 9 to 13. For additional information about these or any of our deployment outreach programs, call the Ramstein Youth Programs.