Military children experience multiple moves, change schools and friends and deal with challenges during their parent’s deployments. It is hard for civilian children to understand them. Luckily, kids whose parents are deployed get a chance to relax and forget about their worries during the Operation Purple Camp in Inglis, Florida. Here, children from all branches of Service are united as one big cheerful family.
Operation Purple is no ordinary camp. At the Caruth Camp in Inglis, everyone looks forward to receiving the military children and engaging in fun activities especially designed for them. When entering the campground you are greeted by a large American flag, which is put up especially during Operation Purple week. One of the highlights of the campground, which the kids seem to enjoy, is a welcoming military robot at the dining hall entrance. Next to it, on the wall of honor, the kids bring photos of their parents and post them with pride. The room is decorated with photos from various activities, but one banner that says “Kids Serve Too,” stands out as a central theme for the camp.
“This as a whole [Operation Purple Camp], I feel it gives children an outlet, not just any kind of outlet, a safe outlet to breath, not to worry,” says Patricia Nelson, Caruth Camp Director. She explains the kids here are very busy throughout the day with various activities, ranging from archery to canoeing and everyday award celebrations. To the kids, she is also known as Miss Nelson. To her, the children are everything and she goes to great lengths to make sure they are happy. She sometimes goes and picks up the children out of the state, in order to make it easier on the families who live far from the camp. “I try to give back to some of the parents who continually give their support and services to us here,” she says.
Miss Nelson considers herself as a grandma to the children and she gives them her unconditional love. Every child who goes to camp is given a bear, also known as “Miss Nelson Love Bears,” she says smiling. “That bear is something they can hold on to and take home with them in remembrance of what we did here on camp,” she adds.
But a bear is not the only thing children take back with them from this experience. “The important part is that they get to bond with other branches,” says the Military Family Life Consultant who is specifically assigned to Operation Purple camps.
The Caruth Camp is ideally located in a very picturesque part of Florida. The nature trails and natural springs provide a unique sense of tranquility. The camp is spread across approximately 240 acres, which was all donated. The cabins where the children sleep are modern and equipped with air conditioning. Moreover, local staff always makes sure the place is impeccable, teaching the children how to protect the environment, explains Bill Rappleyea, Deputy Sheriff. He is one of the passionate sheriffs on campus who dedicates part of his duty hours and his time off to spending time with the children on camp. As he offers a tour of the entire campground, he says how he is very excited to have military kids from all over the country. Part of his mission is to show that law enforcement is a friend, using fun activities such as CSI crime solving. He believes it is wonderful for the military children to be around other children who understand what they are going through.
All these activities are made possible exclusively through donations to the Operation Purple program and the individual camps. Deputy Sheriff Rappleyea emphasizes how any donation is essential: toys, cloths, toothbrushes, etc. “They always find a use for it,” he says. A simple donation can change the lives of children all over the country. To donate to Operation Purple camp, please visit http://www.militaryfamily.org/donate. In order to support Caruth Camp and make a donation, please visit http://www.youthranches.org
Posted by Marlis Perez Rivera, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Tampa, Fl