By Danielle DeSimone
The life of a military child is not an easy one.
From moving every two to three years, to constantly switching schools and making new friends, to spending long periods of time away from at least one parent, most military children are forced to develop resiliency skills from a very young age.
But for military kids growing up overseas in places like Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, learning how to cultivate these skills and cope with change can be particularity challenging, given the added stressors of a new language and culture.
One way military families stationed at NSA Naples can help children develop resiliency and find a sense of home through is community-building events, like USO Naples’ Snack Attack program, which is possible thanks to generous donors like you.
A Program of Their Own
The USO Naples Snack Attack program started three years ago as a way to bring together military children at NSA Naples and give them time for just themselves outside after school on early-release Thursdays.
Once there, children share a themed snack (on National Taco Day, for example, kids enjoyed taco and churro-themed cupcakes) and spend time together, playing or talking.
It’s a program made only for children – no adults allowed – and that makes all the difference.
It’s a fun little thing that’s specifically for the kids,“ said Brenda Torres, a military spouse and USO volunteer originally from California. "They feel very special every time because they know it’s just for them.
When the program first started, only about 70 kids showed up. Today, now that word has spread around the school, the program welcomes more than 300 children each week.
Torres, who volunteers at Snack Attack every week, said she now knows some of the 300 faces she says every Thursday. Children from the program even recognize her and wave hello, promising to see her at the next Snack Attack, when she’s walking around on base.
Building Community with a Cupcake
It could be easy to think of a Naples, Italy, as a vacation-like duty station. However, the exact opposite is true.
“I thought I was going to live a glamorous life in Tuscany, full of hills and wineries,” Torres said. “And then when we got to [the base near] Naples, that is not at all what it was like.”
While nearby Naples is a sprawling city with sometimes unsafe streets and completely foreign culture and language, NSA Naples is only about three miles around the perimeter. It can be simultaneously overwhelming and restricting, and many military children can struggle to adapt to this new environment, particularly if one of their parents gets deployed.
According to Blue Star Families’ 2018 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 57% of families claimed that they had a child who experienced separation anxiety or sleeping problems due to a parent’s deployment. Uprooted from everything familiar and far from friends and family, military children can feel lost without a community to depend upon.
That’s why USO Naples created the Snack Attack program.
Programs and events like these foster a united sense of community and resiliency not only among military children and their classmates, but also between adult volunteers and the children. That sense of community – and the strength military children get from it – carries itself beyond the doors of the USO center and out onto the base and surrounding areas.
A snack and a space to share it with friends might seem small, but to military brats stationed abroad with their families, it can make all the difference.
Editor’s Note: Danielle DeSimone is the USO’s marketing content specialist. She grew up in a U.S. Navy household as a military child, lived overseas in Italy and went through multiple deployments.
- Senior Content Marketing Manager Sandi Gohn and former Director of Content Strategy Chad Stewart contributed to this report.
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