Operation Magic Moments

Children of soldiers surround Cally Evanhoff '12.


The picture in Walt Heinecke’s USD office shows all he wants to articulate about Camp Adventure: young girls and their camp counselor in a bear-hug, unable to hold back tears. It captures what Heinecke calls “the worst day.” No one wants to say goodbye.

Looking at that image of the last day of summer camp on a military base in Naples, Italy, sophomore Cally Evanoff smiles. Her eyes brighten as she recalls her own campers in Paderborn, Germany, last summer. “I miss them a lot,” she says. “There are crazy bonds.”

Camp Adventure is a program conceived in 1985 for military and State Department families around the world who lacked meaningful youth activities. Today, 900 college students staff more than 200 program locations in 16 countries.

USD is home to Camp Adventure’s Southern California training site, run by Heinecke through the School of Leadership and Education Sciences Global Center. It’s a natural fit for the center, which encourages students to experience other cultures and expand their world perspectives with international study and internships. Through Camp Adventure, USD offers the two-fold benefit of global education and service-learning for college students throughout Southern California, and, because the program provides travel and living stipends, it opens up the opportunity to a wider range of students.

Heinecke discovered Camp Adventure in 1989, when his staff brought it onto the Long Beach Naval Base, where he was chief commanding officer.

“It was very uplifting for the families,” says Heinecke, who was so impressed with Camp Adventure that he joined the staff when he retired from the Navy in 1992. “People not only loved having the college students take care of the children in a professional way, but they enjoyed just having them there, because with that comes a whole bunch of enthusiasm.”

On base, the counselors create magic moments with the children as they develop new skills and leadership competencies. They also learn quickly about a child’s life in the military.

“We were at a base for a week and on the last day of camp, the military was deploying to Afghanistan,” says Evanoff, an international relations and Spanish major who hopes to work as an interpreter for the CIA. “The dads came in and said goodbye to their kids at camp. It was so emotional; the kids came crying to us, and we were there to cheer them up. I felt like I was there for a reason. I had a purpose.”

It’s that stability and care that makes the program wildly popular. But the benefits go both ways. For the college students, Camp Adventure provides transportation to and from their assigned site, a living stipend, housing and the opportunity to earn 12 units of college credit at a reduced rate.

Once settled into their assignments, counselors often spend weekends exploring their host country together.

“I think we traveled eight of the 10 weeks we were there,” says Christine McAuliffe ’06, USD Alumni Relations volunteer coordinator, who was one of seven counselors on an Army/Air Force base in Germany in 2006. Traveling to the Netherlands, France, Austria, Venice and throughout Germany, the co-workers became friends. “I still keep in touch with all of the counselors I worked with,” she adds.

Students can sign up for 10-week summer programs that include day camps, resident camps and such specialized camps as sports, cheerleading or the arts. Internships in early childhood development are also offered year-round for sessions lasting 17 weeks.

Up to 40 percent of counselors return for another assignment, Heinecke says. In fact, his own daughter signed up six times. While the opportunity for travel is a clear incentive, it’s the core experience with the children and the inevitable personal growth that brings students back.

“It really is a life-changing opportunity,” says Evanoff. “You are abroad, and the interactions you have with the children, the military and your co-workers will change your life. Honestly, I don’t know how else to describe it. I want to go back.” — Trisha J. Ratledge

To learn more, go to www.uni.edu/campadv.

Pictured: Children of soldiers surround Cally Evanhoff ’12.

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