Winter hasn’t even begun, but Briana Rawlins, 11, is already looking forward to summer camp. The Garner resident imagines days spent horseback riding, swimming and hiking.
For the past three summers, Briana has attended Camp Corral, a free, weeklong camp for children of military families. Sponsored by Golden Corral, the nationwide program started in 2011 to allow kids aged 8 to 15 to break away from the daily challenges they face as children of service members, according to Executive Director Betsey Fortlouis.
“There is a lot of change in the lives of a child who is from a military family,” explained Fortlouis. “Some face unique challenges when a deployed parent returns wounded or disabled or doesn’t come back at all. Oftentimes they don’t have a lot of opportunities to be a kid.”
Briana’s military roots span multiple generations. Her grandfather, father, brother and sister are serving or are veterans who have served in the Air Force and Marines. Her mother, Katherine, learned of the camp opportunity from an advertisement she spotted while dining at a local Golden Corral restaurant.
“This has been a good opportunity for Briana to gain new experiences,” Katherine Rawlins said. “She has met a diverse group of kids and over the years gained a lot of confidence in herself.”
Fortlouis said the week encourages campers to create friendships and bond with kids who share similar family situations. Camp Corral is headquartered in Raleigh and partners with 4-H and YMCA camps across the country to host their camps. Host camps are accredited by the American Camp Association or operate under their standards. Last year, Fortlouis said, more than 3,000 military children nationwide attended the program. Next summer, they are poised to welcome children in 23 camps across 19 states.
“We have been overwhelmed with how many children fit this demographic,” said Fortlouis. “There really isn’t anything like this out there for this particular portion of the population. It was really easy for people to get behind and support.”
Camp Corral doesn’t spend a lot of money on fundraising, she said, but relies on donations made through the restaurant chain’s in-store fundraising campaign held each April and May. Her wish list includes expanding the camps to reach children in every state. Fortlouis has also heard from participants that a camp that could host an experience for the entire family would be welcome.
Until next summer arrives, Briana Rawlins will communicate with her new camp friends through social media sites. She is already thinking about signing up to sing in the annual talent show, improving her archery skills and planning what to wear at the Camp Corral dance.
“I have learned that it’s not so hard to make new friends and try new things,” said Briana, a sixth-grader at Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy. “The first year I attended, I was scared about spending the week away from home. Then one day I forgot about it because I was having so much fun.”
Once she ages out of the program, Briana said would like to volunteer as a Camp Corral counselor to ensure other military children can enjoy the same positive experiences she has had.