Outdoor Odyssey is an outdoors camp located in Boswell, Pennsylvania run by retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Thomas Jones.
Each summer, Outdoor Odyssey hosts the Semper Fi Fund (SFF) Kids Camp. SFF Kids Camp is a way to help the children of wounded post 9/11 service members and veterans.
The Semper Fi Fund provides over $193 million in lifelong assistance to combat wounded, ill and injured members of all branches. Organizers also work to provide support for the whole military family.
The SFF Kids Camp has a unique program that provides each child with a mentor. The one to one ratio creates tight bonds between the kids and mentors. Many mentors and kids will continue to stay in contact throughout the year.
The mentors are comprised of rising juniors and seniors in high school whose parents are active duty, retired or previous military. The military connection ensures mentors will be able to understand the lifestyle of the kids they will be working with.
Mentors arrive first at Outdoor Odyssey, for five days training before they become mentors and guides for their kids through each activity offered. Then, for five days they work with children ages 8 to 14 to build teamwork, confidence and resiliency. Some of the activities include crafts, water activities, camping, caving and zip lining.
Nikolas Cooper, a junior at Lejeune High School, says he and many of his friends participated in Outdoor Odyssey this previous summer.
“(I got) to be a guide and help him [the child he was paired with] see the world more optimistically,” said Cooper. “I was able to help substitute for a more intimate relationship that he might not have been getting at home.”
Carey Hawkins works for the Semper Fi Fund and plays a role in recruiting mentors. The camp is limited by how many kids they can help based on how many mentors they can recruit.
“I get to see the changes in the children when they return from Kids’ Camp,” said Hawkins. “They are so excited to tell their parents all about what they did at camp. You can really see a growth in their confidence, and they make lasting relationships with their mentor and with the other children.”