ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. – The joyful sounds of kids from across North Carolina yelling, screaming and splashing are echoing through the woods that surround the Betsy-Jeff Penn 4-H Education Center.
Since Alice Dean is looking at a lot of smiles, that means the summer camp is working its magic.
"There's a lot of laughter," said Dean. "They are not worried about what's going on at home."
Back at home, Dean knows a parent could be preparing for a mission that could take them away from home or even out of the United States for an extended time.
Alice Dean is the youth coordinator for the North Carolina National Guard. This week she is overseeing a camp that will give 65 North Carolina National Guard children a chance to behave like kids.
Elizabeth is a camper that calls the Piedmont home. She is grateful that the North Carolina National Guard is allowing children like her to experience fun activities like rock climbing, canoeing and horseback riding.
"Our parents get deployed and they are always gone," said Elizabeth. "So, it's kind of an escape from reality and forget about what's going on in the real world."
The camp is free and slots fill up quickly. Dean wishes more children could take a break from the "real world."
"The last two years we had a wait list of over 25 children because we are limited on our funds," Dean said. "We are given funds through the National Guard, through federal funding."
While the kids are having a blast, there is time for serious lessons. Campers, like Elizabeth, are gaining leadership skills they can't wait to share with others.
"To give back. Like if a kid is homesick or misses their parents," Elizabeth said. "One year I came and my dad was deployed. So that was kind of rough. But I can understand a lot of stuff and help them."
Because living with the idea that your parent could be away from home for a long time is not easy.
"They bonded and made a friend and built their own support network," said Dean.