Parenting is a never-ending parade of planning things to keep your kids occupied during school breaks, especially if you're a working parent who needs regular kid care. And those activities usually cost a small fortune, even when you factor in military discounts and early registration bonuses.
Fortunately, there are some camps for the children of military members and even veterans that are not just affordable -- they are free. And while snagging a slot isn't guaranteed, your child definitely won't get in if you don't even try to register.
One of these camps is Operation Purple. Organized by the National Military Family Association, the program accepts children not just from the Defense Department services, National Guard and Reserve, but also the Coast Guard and kids of commissioned officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Public Health Services Commission.
The program has worked with more than 62,000 military kids since starting the camps in 2004, according to its website. And while they're not in every state by a long shot, they are in many states with heavy military populations, such as Texas, and a few places where it can be hard to find other robust services, like Alaska.
They also don't have a "recently deployed" parent requirement. That means kids whose parents haven't left the country for years still qualify. And that's the kind of thing that matters. Sure, deployment is extra stressful. But so is moving and those long training absences.
Two years ago, we lucked out and my then-eight year old scored an Operation Purple spot in Alaska. With four military moves, a deployment and countless Dad absences already under his belt, he didn't know how much he would benefit not just from being around kids with the same experiences, but also from the specific programming that focused on emotional health.
Last year, we applied again and didn't get in. Ultimately, however, all the kids who didn't have Operation Purple slots were offered free camp slots for one of the facility's other camp weeks. While we couldn't make that one, we deeply appreciated the offer.
Future you is going to want to know why you didn't even apply for the free week of camp. Applications open March 4 and close May 10, so get at it. Go here to register.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at email@example.com.