As an Army veteran, Jennifer Sayre knows that her two sons sometimes deal with issues — such as the deployment of a parent — that only other military families understand.
That’s why she jumped at the chance to enroll her kids — aged 9 and 12 — in Operation Purple Camp when she learned UC Riverside will host it this year from July 14-18. She and her wife, Nicole Sayre, are both UCR students.
“Having my kids on campus and explore the campus, almost as if they’re a college student, I think that’s really important for them going to college in the future,” said Sayre, 31, a senior majoring in education and history. “That was the big appeal to me.”
UC Riverside is one of only 15 sites nationally, and the only one in California, chosen to host Operation Purple Camp this year. The camp, organized by the National Military Family Association, is free for children of military service members and veterans.
The campus will host 101 students between the ages of 9 and 17 for the week-long, sleep-over camp, putting them up at the Lothian Residence Hall. They will take part in activities including archery, rope-climbing, a challenge course, library trips, physics lessons, soccer, basketball, and other skills and crafts.
Carl Dugdale, youth program coordinator for UCR Recreation and director of Camp Highlander; and Arvin Varma, associate director for programs, wrote the winning proposal that brought the camp to UCR. They put together a program that combines camp activities with academic learning and development of soft skills such as leadership, team work, and conflict resolution.
“The idea was to do a traditional summer camp run in a college campus setting,” Dugdale said.
Most activities will take place at the Student Recreation Center, but campers will also utilize the Aberdeen grassy knoll, Rivera Library, ROTC Course, Physics building, and Glen Mor fields.
“Camp Highlander at UC Riverside is uniquely suited to provide military kids a fun, dynamic camp experience while also exposing them to a top university,” said Allie Jones, program manager for the National Military Family Association. “Being on campus will add an extra layer to our normal programming — they’ll do more than make camp memories today, they’ll feel more comfortable dreaming bigger about their futures.”
On July 17, Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey will join the campers during their obstacle course challenge.
That same day, the Tiger Squadron, a precision flying team out of Torrance, will conduct a flyover at 11:55 a.m., doing four passes in different formations over the campus. Campers will be lined up near the Student Recreation Center to watch the flyovers.
The campers are mostly from Southern California, though Dugdale said they received applications from military families across the country. He said the campus hopes to host the event again next year.
“We’re really excited,” said Dugdale. “It’s a big win for our campus and especially these kids and their families.”
Adrian Romero, a UC Riverside alumnus who was deployed in Kuwait while with the National Guard, has enrolled his 15-year-old and 12-year-old sons in the camp. His older son attended the camp a few years ago, and Romero and his wife felt it was a valuable experience.
“They can open up and talk to other kids and see there are other kids in similar situations,” he said. “They can have fun. It’s OK to have fun while their parents are away.”