Nary a weed gets a chance to grow in the VFW National Home campus flower beds.
On many days throughout the summer passersby may observe teen residents hard at work on their knees pulling out the horticultural intruders as part of their duties in the summer work program.
The paid program is voluntary for National Home residents between the ages of 14-18 and requires work from the hours of 10-2:30 Monday through Thursday.
“They come right in and get working and because they’re talking and laughing with each other and building relationships the time goes quickly, “said Recreation and Lifeskills Specialist, Mike Heisler who supervises the crews.
Heisler doesn’t limit the tasks to gardening, though. This year his eight-person crew was assigned the responsibility of painting the Boy Scout Cabin’s deck, fishing ports, and bridges.
“I like to do one major job every summer. Last year we painted all the fences on campus,” he added.
The team also tends the grounds at the Eaton Rapids Cemetery where the VFW National Home has a designated section, as well as helping set up and operate games and activities during the four State Days that occur on campus for Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana during the summer months.
Heisler’s experience working with young people spans 30 years and he believes strongly in keeping kids engaged.
“Bored teenagers try to find something to do if they don’t have proper community and connection. They’re going to gravitate toward getting attention whether it is positive or negative. It’s better for them to have positive and structured activities to do,” he explained.
“We try to give the young people on campus a first work experience with no obstacles, while at the same time having them apply, fill out their own paperwork, be on time, and learn appropriate talk and behaviors while working,” said Support Services Supervisor Laura Lonsbery.
4-H Program Offers Kids Opportunity to Learn Responsibility
The VFW National Home took home numerous blue, red, and white ribbons from the Eaton County Fair in mid-July. Nine VFW Home kids from 8-19 raised livestock through the 4-H Program that included six hogs and three rabbits.
“This gives the kids an opportunity to learn about and take care of an animal and then present them to a judge. They learn that hard work pays off,” said Recreation Coordinator Nancy Bowers who has led the 4-H Program at the Home for 37 years.
Six other children competed in the arts and craft and sewing categories.
Bowers said the kids really get hooked on 4-H and once they join they stick with it year after year, “They work together and cheer each other on and work as a team.”
Field Trips, Arts and Crafts, Cooking–No Time for Screens
Grade school and middle school age National Home kids probably found themselves often lured away from their devices with all the constant activity offered in the community center this summer. Ongoing arts and crafts included creating tie dye t-shirts, Christmas crafts in July, ice chalk, paint chalk, homemade kites, and fabrication of frisbees.
In the kitchen the youth churned up homemade ice cream, and mixed puppy chow and garlic pretzels.
Off campus adventures included the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan Adventure, Cedar Point, a weekly visit to Charlotte Aquatic Center, and local library programs including a honeybee presentation.
“I see a sense of wonder in the kids and it’s fun to watch them just being kids and making friends instead of sitting in front of a screen,” said Education & Community Support Specialist Jennifer Campbell.
“We’d like to thank the donors that provide us the funds to do these fun activities. We really enjoy offering the children time to just be kids,” expressed Lonsbery.