MATAWA (WITI) -- Is it possible to have your heart-broken, yet touched at the same time? You decide, after getting to know the kids at Camp Hometown Heroes.
There's nothing like seeing kids having fun at summer camp -- in this case, at YMCA Camp Matawa, nestled in the Northern Kettle Moraine.
And there's nothing quite like Camp Hometown Heroes. A free, annual week-long outreach for children of fallen U.S. Service Members that seeks to honor families embracing families left behind.
"The differentiator between Camp Hometown Heroes and any other camp are these activities, the healing activities and through art therapy discussion groups," says co-founder Neil Willenson. "And the kids that experience the loss of their dad, or their brother, or their uncle, and heal."
The debut camp last year, allowed kids to share their grief; the stories are at once heart-warming and heart-breaking.
11-year-old Monica Delacruz-Williams is one of nine campers from Hawaii; She wasn't born when her father died serving our country. She's getting by with more than a little help from her friends.
"They understand my pain cuz they done like, cuz my friends at school tease me cuz I don't have a dad and they do. Here everybody understands me." says Delacruz-Williams.
12-year-old Lillian Wolfer from Idaho lost her father. Camp Hometown Heroes has helped her re-connect.
"I can feel him, I can hear him giving me advice like all the time. I feel like a gush of wind when it isn't even windy and I can hear his voice," says Wolfer.
The gifted voices of the young people in Sophia's hear choir formed in memory of the late wife of singer Danny Gokey -- touched hearts and souls of campers.
"Children grief when they are ready to. So, coming together as a big group, knowing that there are other kids like them open up that conversation, maybe to being processing or continue processing the grief that they have," says Lindsay Dusold, assistant program director of Kyle's Korner.
Kyle's Korner helps those grieving hearts heal through art therapy.
"What we show on the outside with our grief versus what we feel on the inside," says Dusold.
A high-lite for the campers are the visits they receive from famous athletes, such as Pewaukee native and NFL star JJ Watt.
"The kids are just excited, you know. It's a celebrity, so we're giving them some experiences they've never been able to have before," says Deb Paschke, executive director.
Zack Hamby's from Kentucky. He lost a father who served in the military. He wants to become a mechanical engineer and attend medical school so that he can make prosthetics for our wounded warriors and children wounded in war zones. Zach's made the transition from camper to counselor.
"I know the feeling that they're going through, and the experience, and how bad it can be, and how lonely you can feel at times, and how down you can feel. Even the slightest bit of happiness or enthusiasm has brought joy to me so hopefully it can bring joy to them." says Hamby.
Keith Sladky served in the military. He came to Camp Hometown heroes to be a counselor, in large part because of two of the kids lost a father Keith served with overseas.
"Beyond anything, this is just something that I needed to do," says Sladky. "At the end of the day, I get to go back, and I'm exhausted, but I know I did something worthwhile."
These wonderful young ladies and gentlemen have lost heroes who served our country, but they live on through them, and today they are hometown heroes.
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