Organization: Camp Hometown Heroes
Volunteer Service: Since 2014
What is the organization’s mission?
Camp Hometown Heroes supports children who have lost a loved one through their service in the military (also known as Gold Star children). The organization hosts a week-long, overnight summer camp that offers typical camp activities as well as healing services through grief counselors and memorial ceremonies.
How did you get involved?
My father served in the military, so any military cause is near and dear to my heart. When I first heard about Camp Hometown Heroes through a video featuring Aaron Rodgers, I contacted them to get involved as a camp counselor. I used to be a camp counselor for the YMCA and led mission trips, so it was a great way to tie together two passions.
In which ways have you volunteered with them?
Every year I volunteer to be a camp counselor for one week—it’s the most exhausting and rewarding week of my year. I work with teenage girls, ages 12-14, from sun up to sun down. I’ve also assisted with some of Camp Hometown Heroes’ fundraising events, such as Grand Slam Charity Jam in Milwaukee and board presentations that help us secure funding.
Can you share a memorable experience from your community involvement?
At camp, we have reflections during cabin time where we talk as a group, which often leads to sharing memories of our loved ones. One year, all the girls but one had a picture of their fallen loved one. When we found out, a few of us made special arrangements to retrieve a photo for her so we could all bond over photos.
One time, when I was having a particularly emotional day, the girls noticed and rallied around me to make me feel better. We did a group hug and it was amazing to feel their compassion for me—which is the same compassion I often show them.
What is the most rewarding part of volunteering with Camp Hometown Heroes?
When the children feel comfortable enough to open up and share their thoughts and challenges with us. We have several college-aged counselors, so I am occasionally seen as the mom figure. Sometimes I’ll get kids who want to sit next to me and will snuggle up until I put my arm around them. That’s when I know they’re looking for the mom hug and it’s the simplest thing I can do for them.
How do you feel volunteering has changed you as a person?
It reminds me that our service members have families or loved ones they left behind and that I am able to give back to those families. They really appreciate all that we do for their children just by hosting a summer camp. It’s really changed me as a person because I’ve become more patient and tolerant of those who are different than me. It also makes me more appreciative of those around me. You never know when they’re not going to be there anymore.
Why is it important to give back to the communities we serve?
We get so wound up in our everyday lives, we sometimes forget to think about others. Personally, I have found volunteering to be more satisfying than anything else I have ever done, and it doesn’t take a lot of your time.
Are there any upcoming opportunities for colleagues to get involved with your organization?
Yes, we will be hosting our Grand Slam Charity Jam fundraiser in Milwaukee this March. Associated Bank has been a sponsor of this event in the past and colleagues are welcome to participate. Colleagues can contact me directly if they want to learn more.