AMES, Iowa – Bravery, courage and strength are words commonly used by today’s media when spotlighting the men and women who are placing their lives on the line while fighting for our country. Yet too often the supporting families are left forgotten in the wings. Liz Mettille is shining the spotlight back home, illuminating the needs of the families left behind.
Mettille, Operation: Military Kids (OMK) camp coordinator, has the personal experience that many military families are facing, as her own father served in the Minnesota National Guard for more than 26 years. He passed away in early 2007 of natural causes while serving his country in Iraq.
“I felt very alone on the Iowa State University campus and was looking for resources to get me through a hard time,” Mettille said. “That is when I came across the Operation: Military Kids Web site.”
After meeting Chris Gleason, Operation: Military Kids program director, Mettille felt that volunteering with a program like OMK would give her an opportunity to give back to the military community while also providing a therapeutic outlet for her emotions.
Shortly after their initial meeting, Gleason contacted Mettille with the opportunity of becoming the OMK summer camp coordinator, by serving through the Iowa AmeriCorps State Of Promise Program. She immediately accepted. She quickly got to work planning the OMK summer camps, tailored specifically to meet the needs of the children, siblings and spouses of service men and women.
Mettille planned multiple programs for those who are dealing with the emotions that come hand in hand with having a solider, sailor, airman or marine as a loved one. The program also applies to the National Guard, Reserve and those on active duty.
“As a young military kid, I was unaware that any programs like this even existed! They do great things for the kids and their parents. They can be kids with other kids who are just like them,” she said.
In Iowa, military families do not live on bases where they would have built-in community support. Military families are spread all over the state, and it is not uncommon to find only one military kid in an entire school district.
Having a place for the kids to meet other kids who have the same experiences allows them to build their own community. The week away from home also gives parents a week to recharge.
“I feel honored to be able to offer my help to kids in Iowa who are growing up in difficult circumstances, and I thrive on living with my hands out,” Mettille said.
Mettille said she just wants to touch the lives of the kids she can really relate to, even if for only a week. Although many of these kids will return home and probably forget who she is, they will always remember the cool thing they got to participate in during their week at camp. The same week that Mettille spent months preparing, just for them.
As a criminal justice student at Iowa State University, Mettille said she originally wanted to work in prevention programs, but this experience has changed her mind. She now hopes to find a permanent position with OMK.
“The more I’m able to help, the happier I am and that’s all I can ask for,” Mettille said.
For more information, visit the Operation: Military Kids Web site, www.extension.iastate.edu/4H/omk/.
Caitlyn Miller, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-9915, firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, email@example.com