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CBS Evening News

Camp Hometown Heroes helps children cope with losing a parent to war

By STEVE HARTMAN CBS NEWS August 12, 2016, 6:54 PM

MILWAUKEE — Outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there’s a kids camp that has all the makings of a typical summer camp, except the kids who come here share one exceptional bond.

Since 9/11, 5,000 kids have lost a parent because of war. And a few years ago, Camp Hometown Heroes started as a way to bring those kids together from across the country.

Camper James House’s dad, John, was a Navy medic who died in a helicopter crash in Iraq. That was in 2005, when James was just a month old.

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James House / CBS NEWS

“Can you explain to me, how do you miss someone that you’ve never met?” I asked James.

“I miss him because he’s my dad. I might not have met him in person, but he’s always with me,” he said.

Over the years, James wanted to mourn but says he couldn’t, really — partly because his friends at home, while well-intentioned, weren’t saying the right things.

“At school when Father’s Day passes that’s a big deal. And everyone is making little Father’s Day cards and I get a little sad. And they say, ‘I know how you feel.'”

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Dylan Simon writes a message on his balloon before the release. /

CBS NEWS

But it’s not the same.

“[At camp] I get to cry and they can say ‘I know how you feel,’ and I know they know how I feel. And that’s a great feeling.”

For many of the kids, camp is their first chance to just let it out. To help in that effort they do a balloon release, where campers write messages to their loved ones.

Dylan Simon lost his dad in 2005. Dylan was a camper for four years, but this year he’s back as a counselor.

“My first balloon release was one of the hardest because I had to physically let go of everything that I was holding onto over the years,” he said.

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Campers wait to release their balloons with messages written to loved ones. /

CBS NEWS

A lot of kids say the balloon release is the best part of camp — and, at first, we could not understand why.

“There’s nothing you can say to a kid to make them feel better when someone is gone forever,” Dylan explained.

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Campers hug each other after the balloon release. /

CBS NEWS

But then something magical happened. The kids started reaching out to one another. Not a word was said because not a word was needed. Proving that sometimes all it takes to let go — is the right person to hold onto.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, email us: OnTheRoad@cbsnews.com

HUNTER HAYES SURPRISE!

Hunter Hayes Visits Camp Hometown Heroes.

While on a recent break from his tour, the country singer paid a surprise visit to Camp Hometown Heroes in Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization for kids who’ve lost a parent or sibling who served in the U.S. military. Hayes spent several hours with the 80 campers, during which he performed a song, participated in an impromptu Q&A with the children and took photos with each cabin group.

“There are no words that really say how grateful we are for our service men and women and their families. Seeing a camp like this that is there for the families of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice is overwhelmingly emotional,” Hayes tells PEOPLE of his experience at the camp.

“I so appreciate the chance to spend time with these incredibly strong and inspiring kids and the volunteers that are there for them in such a big way.”

Original Article can be found here: http://www.people.com/article/hunter-hayes-camp-hometown-heroes

Healing Hearts – A Short Film

Healing Hearts – A Powerful Short Film About Camp Hometown Heroes

Camp Hometown Heroes: Healing Hearts and Restoring Hope Campaign

Since 9/11, more than 10,000 U.S. children have lost a parent, sibling or other loved one who served in the U.S. Military. For these children, this painful loss at a tender age can lead to depression, hardship, and lifelong sorrow. Camp Hometown Heroes was launched in 2013 to provide children of the fallen with a community of support, and at long last, a path to healing.

Our nation must never forget the men and women who fought and died to preserve our way of life. The best way to remember these fallen heroes is by embracing the children they left behind.

Thanks to the generosity of thousands of fellow citizens, the life-changing Camp Hometown Heroes programs are provided free of charge. In honor of their permanent sacrifice for our nation, we invite you to join our “Healing Hearts” movement so we can help provide even more children of the fallen with a brighter future.

While we are pleased that our camp has nearly doubled in size the past year, we also are saddened as we are denying enrollment to dozens of children who wish to attend. Simply put, Hometown Heroes needs to raise more funding so that these valuable healing programs can grow.

Camp Hometown Heroes must raise $1,500 for every child who wishes to attend. These funds are utilized to provide room and board, grief counseling, art therapy, supplies, air travel and other related camp expenses. Funds raised from this “Healing Hearts” campaign will be used to significantly increase the number of children and teenagers served at future camp sessions and other healing programs.

Healing Hearts and Restoring Hope Campaign

Camp Hometown Heroes: Healing Hearts and Restoring Hope Campaign

Since 9/11, more than 10,000 U.S. children have lost a parent, sibling or other loved one who served in the U.S. Military. For these children, this painful loss at a tender age can lead to depression, hardship, and lifelong sorrow. Camp Hometown Heroes was launched in 2013 to provide children of the fallen with a community of support, and at long last, a path to healing.

Our nation must never forget the men and women who fought and died to preserve our way of life. The best way to remember these fallen heroes is by embracing the children they left behind.

Thanks to the generosity of thousands of fellow citizens, the life-changing Camp Hometown Heroes programs are provided free of charge. In honor of their permanent sacrifice for our nation, we invite you to join our “Healing Hearts” movement so we can help provide even more children of the fallen with a brighter future.

While we are pleased that our camp has nearly doubled in size the past year, we also are saddened as we are denying enrollment to dozens of children who wish to attend. Simply put, Hometown Heroes needs to raise more funding so that these valuable healing programs can grow.

Camp Hometown Heroes must raise $1,500 for every child who wishes to attend. These funds are utilized to provide room and board, grief counseling, art therapy, supplies, air travel and other related camp expenses. Funds raised from this “Healing Hearts” campaign will be used to significantly increase the number of children and teenagers served at future camp sessions and other healing programs.

WISN-TV/ WISN12 MILWAUKEE

Camp Hometown Heroes sends military families on cruise

UPDATED 10:00 AM CST Nov 28, 2014

To watch this video, click on the image below.

WISN 12 Milwaukee, Camp Hometown Heroes

WITI-TV / FOX6 MILWAUKEE

Camp Hometown Heroes offers comfort to kids who’ve lost a loved one in war

POSTED 10:43 PM, JULY 13, 2014, BY TOM PIPINES
Original Story Link

MATAWA (WITI) — Is it possible to have your heart-broken, yet touched at the same time? You decide, after getting to know the kids at Camp Hometown Heroes.

There’s nothing like seeing kids having fun at summer camp — in this case, at YMCA Camp Matawa, nestled in the Northern Kettle Moraine.

And there’s nothing quite like Camp Hometown Heroes. A free, annual week-long outreach for children of fallen U.S. Service Members that seeks to honor families embracing families left behind.

“The differentiator between Camp Hometown Heroes and any other camp are these activities, the healing activities and through art therapy discussion groups,” says co-founder Neil Willenson. “And the kids that experience the loss of their dad, or their brother, or their uncle, and heal.”

The debut camp last year, allowed kids to share their grief; the stories are at once heart-warming and heart-breaking.

11-year-old Monica Delacruz-Williams is one of nine campers from Hawaii; She wasn’t born when her father died serving our country. She’s getting by with more than a little help from her friends.

“They understand my pain cuz they done like, cuz my friends at school tease me cuz I don’t have a dad and they do. Here everybody understands me.” says Delacruz-Williams.

12-year-old Lillian Wolfer from Idaho lost her father. Camp Hometown Heroes has helped her re-connect.

“I can feel him, I can hear him giving me advice like all the time. I feel like a gush of wind when it isn’t even windy and I can hear his voice,” says Wolfer.

The gifted voices of the young people in Sophia’s hear choir formed in memory of the late wife of singer Danny Gokey — touched hearts and souls of campers.

“Children grief when they are ready to. So, coming together as a big group, knowing that there are other kids like them open up that conversation, maybe to being processing or continue processing the grief that they have,” says Lindsay Dusold, assistant program director of Kyle’s Korner.

Kyle’s Korner helps those grieving hearts heal through art therapy.

“What we show on the outside with our grief versus what we feel on the inside,” says Dusold.

A high-lite for the campers are the visits they receive from famous athletes, such as Pewaukee native and NFL star JJ Watt.

“The kids are just excited, you know. It’s a celebrity, so we’re giving them some experiences they’ve never been able to have before,” says Deb Paschke, executive director.

Zack Hamby’s from Kentucky. He lost a father who served in the military. He wants to become a mechanical engineer and attend medical school so that he can make prosthetics for our wounded warriors and children wounded in war zones. Zach’s made the transition from camper to counselor.

“I know the feeling that they’re going through, and the experience, and how bad it can be, and how lonely you can feel at times, and how down you can feel. Even the slightest bit of happiness or enthusiasm has brought joy to me so hopefully it can bring joy to them.” says Hamby.

Keith Sladky served in the military. He came to Camp Hometown heroes to be a counselor, in large part because of two of the kids lost a father Keith served with overseas.

“Beyond anything, this is just something that I needed to do,” says Sladky. “At the end of the day, I get to go back, and I’m exhausted, but I know I did something worthwhile.”

These wonderful young ladies and gentlemen have lost heroes who served our country, but they live on through them, and today they are hometown heroes.

CLICK HERE to donate or find out more information about Camp Hometown Heroes.

 

It’s Aaron / Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers spends time with 4 special kids who lost a father serving in the military

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and David Gruber are shining a spotlight on Camp Hometown Heroes with their latest It’s Aaron video.

This time around, Aaron surprises four amazing kids who lost their dads serving in the U.S. Military. Just watch.