This fall, on a picture-perfect weekend, I was lucky enough to attend an Operation Purple Family Retreat at the YMCA Camp Letts in Edgewater, Maryland. The camp, which encompasses an entire 2,600 acre peninsula on the Rhode River, was the perfect setting for these 21 families to run free, connect, and enjoy outdoor activities together.
Operation Purple Family Retreats focus on reestablishing family connections after a deployment, separation, or during a time of transition. The retreat forms a foundation for future communication between spouses, and between parents and children. This foundation is formed through activities that require teamwork as well as reconnection seminars lead by the American Red Cross.
The weekend was action-packed right from the get-go and started off with a bang at Family Challenge Night where families combined forces to create six mega-family teams in order to battle it out across five different challenges. These challenges were crazy — which team had the smelliest shoe? Which team could come up with (and demonstrate) a new-and-never-heard-of-creature? The prize: bragging rights for the entire weekend.
It was amazing to see families, who had just met, come together and form instant bonds through silly games and teamwork.
And this became the theme of the weekend.
The fun activities continued for the next two days with canoeing, archery, Seine fishing, zip-lining, tie-dying, and lawn games (I’m tired just reliving all of this!). It was an entire weekend spent outdoors just hanging out with family and newfound friends. Distractions were put aside, which was a major goal of most of the families attending OPFR.
When we asked families what they wanted to get out of the weekend, one of the top responses was to put down the electronics and spend time outside with one another. For most, this goal was met. Phones were locked in cars Friday night at the start of camp, not to be touched again until Sunday afternoon when camp was over.
Simply put, one family said: “We were able to spend uninterrupted time doing things we loved and just being.”
In addition to the bonds formed between families due to the lack of distractions, what most didn’t realize, is that they’d be forming connections and friendships with other families going through the exact same things as them.
Throughout the weekend we witnessed co-mingling of families – parents talking with other parents about similarities happening in each other’s lives, kids talking and playing with other kids who have experienced the same sort of struggles.
Not only did it make for a fun and fulfilling weekend, the talks between families gave each person validation for what they were going through, knowing they weren’t going through it alone.
Our military families are some of the strongest families around. It was an honor for NMFA, along with our generous supporters (Kendeda & General Dynamics), to make this wonderful weekend family retreat possible.
Interested in attending an Operation Purple Program? We’d love to see you!