December 6, 2016
[The following story was inspired by survey responses from the Temple family, Our Military Kids grant recipients,who recently took OMK’s online survey of military families who received grants during the past 12 years.]
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By Judy McSpadden
It’s after dark. A dozen teens are standing at the edge of an alligator pit. A girl sitting in a wheelchair rolls forward. She wants to take a turn at the zip line. Slowly, she climbs the steps of the metal stand at the edge of the pit. Reaching the top of the stand, she lets the attendant attach a hook to the straps on her chest. Then she leaps. Flying into the dark abyss, Corinna Temple, soaring 300 feet above the alligators, jettisons all her worries, while her friends below cheer her on. In just seconds, she lands at the opposite stand, climbs down the ladder, and settles back into her wheelchair.
In 2009, (then) Capt. Bill Temple had recently left Army active duty service to fly helicopters for the Florida National Guard. When doctors found a cancer that resulted in the removal of his kidney, Capt. Temple resolved he would not let the ordeal keep him from deploying with his aviation unit. Three months later, he left for the Middle East, where he would serve for more than a year.
“My husband’s a champion,” said Nixsa, who met Bill in Daytona Beach where they both attended college. “It was a mentally exhausting time for me, but he was ready to go.”
While Capt. Temple transitioned to life on assignment, Nixsa and children Eli and Corinna were living in Florida with their own set of challenges. Life in the National Guard was very different from active duty, according to Nixsa. “In the active duty world, everybody knew each other,” she said. “In the Guard, people lived on the economy, distributed about the state. I had to be more careful about what I said, especially about Bill’s deployment.”
Ms. Vogel echoed the sentiment: “Active duty people on the same base have each other, but our folks in the Guard may live three hours away,” she said, “Here in Florida, the nearest Army base is in Alabama or Georgia. By nature of proximity, people build community.”
The lack of community can be tough on Guard and Reserve kids, said Ms. Vogel. “They may go to a school where they’re the only military kids. Think about the Guard kid. His dad may work at a paint store one day, then he’s a military man the next. All of a sudden, the kid’s a military kid, and he doesn’t know how to explain it to people.”
When Capt. Temple deployed, his children, Corinna in particular, were dealing with personal difficulties, as well. “Corinna has ADHD and mild Cerebral Palsy,” said Nixsa. “At the time, we didn’t know it was CP. She was born with low muscle tone; she often fell and broke bones.”
Nixsa was doing all she could to combat the combination of adolescent angst, the family strain, and health problems. She found out about Our Military Kids from the Florida CYP. Ms. Vogel said, for her staff, OMK has been a consistent “go-to” program, an important piece of the military child support puzzle. “We have such an emotional ownership of Our Military Kids,” Ms. Vogel said, “that we treat it as one of our own resources.”
Both Temple kids received Our Military Kids grants to pay for taekwondo. According to Nixsa, the grant was a life changer. Corinna hadn’t been able to keep up with dance class, but taekwondo allowed her to work at her own pace. The kids learned how to protect themselves, how to focus better, but, most importantly, how to engage in something and not worry about their mom or dad.
“OMK was the best support my children have ever had. As for the grant the kids received, they were able to participate in after-school activities that they normally would have not been able to because we couldn’t afford it,” Nixsa said.
Over time, Corinna’s health problems were identified so that she could reduce her need for support from a walker or scooter. Thanks to the Guard CYP, the Temples were connected with multiple activities, like the Florida Guard’s Youth Advisory Council, of which Eli is president.
“The Guard youth program builds camaraderie with kids,” said Nixsa, “It’s given the kids a way to connect. They’ll Facetime and text each other. They can mingle with each other, even though they don’t live close.”
Ms. Vogel said Eli and Corinna have served on her team leadership board for several years now. They also completed child and youth courses on communication, conflict resolution and other subjects, and they recently attended a regional youth symposium in Nashville. “They are exceptional children,” said Ms. Vogel. “They have a great moral compass and innate leadership skills.”
Today, Col. Bill Temple is healthy, cancer-free, and still working for the Florida National Guard. Nixsa teaches online programs to high school students who need credits to graduate. Eli is getting ready to graduate from high school, and Corinna is a confident young lady.
(Please email comments to JSMcSpadden@ourmilitarykids.org.)