“It wasn’t really intended to become a national program at the time. It was more of a volunteer effort, but after we piloted the program and it was so successful and well-received, we identified it as something that provided support,” Davidson said. Since 2004, Our Military Kids has provided $16 million for more than 40,000 individual grants to enable children of Reservists, National Guardsmen and wounded warriors to participate in sports, the arts, and other activities while their parent is deployed or recovering from injury. Last year, the organization’s annual budget came to about $3.5 million, derived mainly from corporate foundations, individual donations and a small grant from the Army National Guard.
“Our Military Kids provides grants to children of deployed Reservists and Guardsmen for sports, fine arts, tutoring programs, and other activities chosen by the family,” said Davidson, who serves as executive director of the McLean, Va.-based nonprofit organization. While a parent is deployed overseas, Our Military Kids grants allow children to pursue positive activities that interest them but which they might not otherwise be able to afford because of the decrease in family income during deployment.
The activities funded by Our Military Kids grants are as varied and unique as children themselves: band and school trips, driver’s education classes, “We’ve even bought goats in Louisiana for a 4-H project, and sent a boy to a special falcon facility for training in falconry” said Our Military Kids representative Greg O’Brien. The grants do not cover missions trips, child care or school tuition, because the intention of the program is to be a stress-reliever and an enriching experience for the children, more than an aid to the parents.
Still, parents benefit. Chief Petty Officer Intelligence Specialist Chris Karnbach and his wife Anne Marie, are St. Mary’s County Public School music teachers. He also serves in the Navy Reserves, attached to Naval Air Facility Washington on Joint Base Andrews. When he was sent on a recent deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he learned about Our Military Kids grants and knew it would be good for his entire family during his absence.
“I went through NMPS (Naval Mobilization Processing) Gulfport, Miss., and they did a brief about the grant and gave us the paperwork,” said Chris Karnbach. “All it costs is (the time it takes to fill out the application)? Why wouldn’t you do it? A lot of the other guys went to the same brief and didn’t apply. I told Anne Marie we had to do it.”
Anne Marie Karnbach described the one-page, online application for the grants as “very easy.” For each child, she provided a description of what her son and daughter wanted to do, and why they deserved the grant. She included a copy of her husband’s military orders, proof that the children were his dependent family members, and information from the service provider to identify the fees necessary to participate. Both Abigail, now age 8 and Christopher, now age 9, were selected to received $500 grants to participate in Taekwondo lessons at a studio near their Hollywood, Md. home.
“The grants paid for almost two months of Taekwondo,” said Anne Marie Karnbach, who added that the children have continued to take martial arts lessons since their father’s return. After nearly a year of study and practice, the children each recently received their Blue belts in the martial art, and show no sign of waning interest.
Davidson said that the application process is deliberately simple, “Because the families are overwhelmed already in the midst of deployment or injury.” Once the application is submitted by fax, scan or mail, it goes through a speedy review process. All grants that meet the requirements are approved within two weeks, and then the grant money is sent directly to the service provider. But it doesn’t stop there.
“We send an award packet to the child, letting them know they have been approved and received the grant. It includes a letter thanking them for their service and some trinkets-- a bandanna, a wrist band, dog tags, a patch, pins and stickers. It makes them feel more a part of the deployment, and a connection to the deployed parent,” Davidson said. Children are eligible to apply for one grant per deployment.
For information or to apply for a grant, visit www.ourmilitarykids.org.