NEWS | Aug. 17, 2020

VNG Youth Program hosts first Virtual Summer Camp

By Staff Reports

The Virginia National Guard Youth Program launched its first Virtual Camp July 27-31, 2020. Fifty-three campers and 11 National Guard teens participated in the week long, online experience.

Prior to camp, campers and teens received Camp Boxes in the mail containing a t-shirt, water bottle, and a variety of camp packets for the various online sessions they were to engage in throughout the week.

Sessions consisted of Facebook live videos that explained how each packet was to be used. Activities ranged from creating lava lamps, building bridges out of Popsicle sticks, and designing tie dye t-shirts unique to this special camp year.

For more than a decade, the VNG Youth Camp has taken place each summer in Virginia Beach. The six-day, overnight camp provides educational, emotional, social, and community support to the children and teens of VNG Airmen and Soldiers. Because of COVID-19 and the the social restrictions in place, an in-person camp wasn’t a possibility this year.

“When we found out that Youth Camp was not a possibility this year, we immediately began planning for different types of virtual engagement with our National Guard Youth,” said Joe Duerksen, lead child and youth coordinator for the Virginia National Guard. “This camp came about as a way to connect youth virtually with unique, shared experiences that are educational, memorable, and fun. I believe we did that with this camp.”

The Winchester-based STARBASE Academy partnered with the Youth Program by creating educational videos for the live sessions. Their trainers joined in the live sessions to answer questions commented in on the videos and offer feedback on the projects.

STARBASE is a Department of Defense educational program, sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, where students participate in 25 hours of “hands-on, mind-on” activities in science, technology, engineering and math over five days.

Each day, campers also participated in Zoom breakout sessions. These hangouts, facilitated by teen volunteers, created connection and memories through zoom-games and discussion questions.

The campers also participated in self-directed activities like home-Olympics, a Talent Show, and a Best Bunk Challenge. For Olympics, participants were encouraged to use items from their box and around their homes to create, perform, and send in their own home-Olympics ideas.

Additionally, campers submitted videos and pictures of their talents for a midweek talent show and the daily Best Bunk challenge. At the end of the week, the closing ceremony live stream featured highlight videos of all of the home-Olympics and projects from the week with the addition of a special video from Maj. Gen. Timothy P. WIlliams, the Adjutant General of Virginia.

Jessica Mullins, an adult volunteer, and parent of a teen and camper, raved about the camp and her daughters’ experience.

“I just want to say again how awesome you guys did!” she wrote in a message to the Youth Program. “I will be honest….I was a little skeptical at the idea of virtual camp ((after just finishing out “virtual school” with the kids)) but you guys went above and beyond this week!! My girls were so excited and busy and they loved the busy…They had so much fun with all the activities and you guys spaced things out so well! Thank you for letting me be a part, too!”