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UC Helps Military Children

UC Cooperative Extension Spearheads State Program for Military Children

Operation Military Kids helps children of the activated Army Reserve and National Guard

(August 2, 2005)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Aug. 2, 2005 — Watching mom or dad go away to war is never easy, especially when they’re activated reservists or National Guard members called away from civilian life.

To help children cope with their loved one’s absence, the University of California, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have teamed up to offer families help through a new effort called Operation Military Kids.

Through services, activities and local support groups around the state, the military, USDA and UC’s Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development Program, are creating a network that will help children of reservists or National Guard members cope with the problems that accompany a military deployment. When parents are activated and deployed these civilian children instantly become military children.

“The children of newly activated National Guard and reserve parents look the same as they did before deployment to teachers, friends and the community, but their lives have changed dramatically,” said Karen Varcoe, a UC consumer economics specialist based at UC Riverside. Varcoe oversees Operation Military Kids’ Project Director and 4-H Youth Development liaison Chandra Gonzales, and Neal Emper, Ret. USAF Colonel, the military liaison for the project.

Since the program activities began in May, about 100 children have signed up and Gonzales is on a tour of the state’s communities with military bases, National Guard or Reserve units to register more participants. Gonzales is also coordinating her efforts with the National Guard’s Operation We Care.

“These efforts seek to show youth that they belong to a larger group, that there are others like them out there,” Gonzales said.

Operation Military Kids organizers will help connect the children of reservists and National Guard members to others in similar situations through the existing 4-H Youth Development Program, Varcoe added.

“Because many children’s support systems may no longer be adequate when a parent is called up and deployed, and because the stress of daily media coverage of hostilities abroad heightens anxiety levels, these children need to connect with others in similar situations,” Gonzales said. They seek friends and adults who can empathize and can help them cope with their new world.

Through Operation Military Kids, California children of National Guard and Army Reserve families will receive:

  • Educational, recreational and social programs from local 4-H clubs in their communities;

  • Support through their community networks on coping with the stress of having a parent or parents deployed and;

  • Opportunities to use one of two mobile-tech labs being provided to the state.

Operation Military Kids activities by the UC Cooperative Extension, are funded through a $290,000 grant from the U.S. Army and the USDA Cooperative States Research Education and Extension Service. It is part of a national effort carried out by each of 30 participating states’ university extension services.

In June, 96 children from Santa Rosa to San Diego participated in the six-day Operation Purple Camp in the Los Padres National Forest, where the goal was to have fun, make friends and learn ways to cope with the absences caused by military deployments.

Next, Gonzales will be traveling up and down the state organizing teen panels of military youth to advocate for military children by speaking about their needs, hopes and fears to youth groups, community organizations and politicians.

Operation Military Kids is creating “Hero Packs” filled with toys, games, journals, and other items recognizing these newly military youngsters as home-front heroes. The goal is to offer children the support they need before, during and after their parents are deployed.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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