When National Guardsman Nelson Gonzalez was deployed to Iraq four years ago, it was hard on his four daughters.
Their dad missed birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and although he called whenever he could, the girls were afraid he might never come home.
“They got used to him calling often, and when he didn’t, they would worry,” said Nelson’s wife, Jennifer Gonzalez. “Generally, deployment is hard on kids”
The girls found it tough to talk about their dad with friends from school, but two weeks at a summer camp with other children from military families proved a welcome break. Since then, with their dad still on active duty, the girls have returned to Camp Mendocino in Northern California every summer.
“Summer camp has been one of the best things that’s happened to them,” Jennifer Gonzalez said. “It lets them go be kids.”
This year, the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco is looking for more military families to sign up for its free program at Camp Mendocino — Project Noyo.
“One of the main focuses for us is the entire program being therapeutic for the kids,” said Rebecca Randall, the director at Camp Mendocino.
The camp, which will run from June 18 to June 27 and is open to children ages 7 to 18, includes the usual activities — such as arts and crafts, swimming and archery — but it also incorporates group discussions about what it means to have a parent serving overseas.
“A lot comes up in that,” Randall said. “It’s a pretty isolating experience for them not to be able to talk about it.”