Camp Hometown Heroes benefits kids who've lost a loved one in war

CAMPBELLSPORT (WITI) -- Camp Hometown Heroes is in its inaugural year, and is a special camp just for the children of fallen service members. And it's free!

"It's not what I expected. It's actually better," Carter Naseman said.

"I kind of expected like, for there to be more talking about like, who you lost and like how and stuff, but it's not like that," Cole Naseman said.

Brothers Carter and Cole Naseman are part of the first ever Camp Hometown Heroes. They joined 60 other kids from 14 states who have all lost a loved one who died while serving in the military.

"Everybody has lost somebody here.  It`s not like an ordinary camp where people just say `oh I know exactly how you feel.' They don`t. These people here know pretty much exactly what you felt like and what you feel like now," Cole Naseman said.

The boys lost their father on May 22nd, 2009. Sergeant First Class Brian Naseman was killed in Iraq. The family had a difficult time finding others to relate to, until they found this camp.

"I realized that there are a bunch more people that lost their father in the service than I thought there would be," Carter Naseman said.

Neil Willenson is the co-founder of Camp Hometown Heroes. As the VP of Community Relations at Grafton-based Kapco, he helped create a similar camp for children with HIV and AIDS.

"Will we solve their problem? No. The loss is permanent, but that they`re going to leave here feeling stronger, happier and that they can have a much happier life and that`s the ultimate goal," Willenson said.

After seeing the struggle children of fallen service members face, he was ready to help.

"I think if you take children from a sad situation, from a hardship and you bring them together, kids that have a common bond, in this case it`s a loss of a loved one who served in the military, they form strong friendships," Willenson said.

At first glance, the week at Camp Matawa in Campbellsport looks like any other summer adventure. Campers spend time riding horses, swimming and dancing. However, there are a few activities you wouldn't normally see.

During the week, the kids have the chance to take part in different types of therapy -- each designed to help them address the grief connected to their loss.

"They have Kyle`s Korner too which we did the other day.  We broke pots and then that like resembled our life as a whole, and then smashing them was like when the person died, and then we had to hot glue it back together and build your life back up," Cole Naseman said.

"They help you talk about your fallen member and they help you make stuff.  They let us make a stress ball and they let us make a memory box," Carter Naseman said.

"Without the grief therapy then I think we`re just any summer camp USA, but because we offer these healing programs, that`s what makes Camp Hometown Heroes so unique," Willenson said.

Camp Hometown Heroes will return for a second year, and Willenson believes several of the older participants will become counselors at the camp.

CLICK HERE for additional information on Camp Hometown Heroes.