Jean-Luc Rivera knows what it’s like to be a military kid.
His mom was a Marine for 22 years.
Born in Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Rivera moved from post to post with his mother, including a 4-year stop in Okinawa, Japan.
Today, the 23-year-old works for the national nonprofit group Camp Corral, which provides a free week of camp for children of military families with members who are injured, disabled or dead. More than 3,400 children at 21 locations nationwide are experiencing the great outdoors this summer because of the program.
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Sitting on a picnic bench inside YMCA Camp Seymour on the Key Peninsula on Wednesday, the 23-year-old smiled as he looked around at dozens of squealing campers.
“Camp Corral is my way of giving back to the military community,” he said. “It’s my chance to say thank-you to my mom for her service.”
The 135-acre camp a half-hour south of Tacoma seemed a perfect setting for many first-time campers who get to enjoy paddling on the calm waters of historic Glencove, shooting arrows in the archery range, challenging their skill on the rock climbing wall and having a pick of a handful of ziplines to try.
“I am here because it’s really cool and nice,” said Nathan Kempton, of Oregon. “It’s fun and a great place to meet new friends, get some exercise and do some cool stuff.”
This was exactly what Camp Seymour executive director Scotty Jackson wanted to hear.
“A lot of these kids have moved from base to base, having to make new friendships and re-form those relationships in different towns,” Jackson said. “What’s nice is that this is one of the things these kids have in common.”
Applications to camp open in January, and children age 8 to 15 from all military families are welcome to apply.
“It’s hard to come from a military family already, and on top of that you add a parent who comes back from war and isn’t the same,” Rivera said. “It’s good resilience building, helps them go back home and be able to cope better with the things that they face in their households.”
The Raleigh, N.C.-based organization partners with YMCA and 4H camps, paying for the week of camp, while the local camps provide their facilities and staff.
“I would have been a Camp Corral camper had this program been around when I was a kid,” Rivera said. “It makes me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. It feels good giving back.”