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Operation Hero Helps Troubled Military Children

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 26, 2004 – Having a parent deployed or experiencing frequent moves can be tough on a child, sometimes leading to social or academic problems at school.

Operation Hero, an Armed Services YMCA program, is bringing after-school tutoring and mentoring assistance to 6- to 12-year-old children experiencing temporary troubles at school and helping each find the "hero" inside themselves, explained program manager Susan Sims.

The Armed Services YMCA branch at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton started the program almost a decade ago to keep young children from joining gangs, Sims said. Since then, Operation Hero has expanded its mission as well as its scope. It now serves more than a dozen military installations throughout the United States, with certified teachers and trained child-care professionals helping participating students in small groups that ensure individual attention.

The program, which involves twice-a-week sessions lasting two and a half hours each, offers group activities, self-esteem-building activities and homework help. Students also keep journal entries about good things that happened to them during the day, Sims explained.

Sims said the program focuses on personal responsibility as the way for troubled children to get back on track in school as well as at home.

Bob Brinton, superintendent for Camp Lejeune Dependents Schools in North Carolina, calls himself "an enthusiastic advocate" of the program that has served "well over 100" elementary school children in his district.

Brinton said many children in the Operation Hero program have parents deployed overseas, which he said can leave children too distracted to focus on their day-to-day schoolwork.

Although teachers at Camp Lejeune generally are good at identifying and working with students who act out their concerns about deployments, transitions and low self-esteem, Brinton said, Operation Hero offers a full curriculum that focuses specifically on these issues.

"It provides opportunities for these students to communicate and deal with these issues in an open way," Brinton said. In doing so, he said, students regain their ability to focus on typical school-day issues.

"The bottom line is that it's good for the children," Brinton said. "Operation Hero is an example of what can happen when the larger community wraps its arms around its schools."

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Related Sites:
Operation Hero
Armed Services YMCA
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.

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