State College

Family fun fair helps salute children of military parents

Army Reserve member Kevin Eichenlaub helps his sons Kash, 5, and Koen, 4, test out a fly fishing activity at the Total Outdoors stand during the Salute to the Military Child Family Fun Fair at the Snider Ag Arena on Saturday, March 28, 2015. Total Outdoors is an organization from Weikert dedicated to strengthening military families and veterans through outdoor experiences.
Army Reserve member Kevin Eichenlaub helps his sons Kash, 5, and Koen, 4, test out a fly fishing activity at the Total Outdoors stand during the Salute to the Military Child Family Fun Fair at the Snider Ag Arena on Saturday, March 28, 2015. Total Outdoors is an organization from Weikert dedicated to strengthening military families and veterans through outdoor experiences. CDT photo

The military doesn’t often walk hand-in-hand with fun and games, but Saturday at the Snider Agricultural Arena was about bringing things together.

Penn State Extension Military Youth Program hosted its Seventh Annual Salute to the Military Child Family Fun Fair on Saturday afternoon. Open to military and civilian families alike, the event offered visitors the opportunity to play games and engage with representatives from service organizations throughout the State College area.

Susan Smith, state director of the Military Youth Program at Penn State Extension, said that the fair was a way to recognize the sacrifices made by children in military families ahead of April’s “Month of the Military Child.”

“It’s a way to salute and honor kids and make them feel special and unique,” Smith said.

According to Smith, there are close to 400 military children living in Centre County, some contributing to the total of 91 percent living in Pennsylvania away from a base or other traditional support systems. For the past seven years, the fair has provided a backdrop for these disparate families to connect.

“Our hope is for them to realize they are not out there alone and to form support networks,” Smith said.

Smith’s own support network was provided by the Programming in Recreation Services class at Penn State, a training ground for students learning how to design, promote and implement special events. For Trevor Burns and his seven other classmates working the fair, Saturday marked the culmination of a semester’s worth of work arranging sponsorships and marketing.

A junior and ROTC student at Penn State, Burns can relate to the cause — his father was in the Air Force and he grew up on bases all around the country. He even arranged for two other ROTC volunteers to lend a hand during the day’s proceedings.

“Everybody in that program, we kind of understand what it means,” Burns said.

Keith Guiswite, a Bellefonte resident and a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, was among those who appreciated the effort. Guiswite brought his three young children to the event, where they walked around the arena and made bracelets.

“It’s neat to have something for the kids and the family,” Guiswite said.

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