‘Back 2 School Bash’ captivates youth and grownups alike

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. John Hughel
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Heading back to school can be a mix of emotions; bordering somewhere between anticipation and anxiety for students and parents alike. With classes beginning as early as next week, the Back2School Bash for Oregon National Guard families held here Aug. 22 soothed some of the upcoming uncertainties.

With families from both the Army and Air National Guard attending, 142nd Fighter Wing Family Programs Manager Amy Conroy greeted participants as they arrived at the Armed Forces Reserve Center with bright red t-shirts for the day's events.

"We want to get people primed and ready for the school year, and to take on the challenges of the upcoming year as a family," said Conroy.

The activities scheduled engaged the participants both physically as well as mentally. Optimist and author Jonathan Catherman began the morning session with parents, focusing on the challenges that grown-ups of today face with their children who are coming of age.

"We're going to have a conversation today that is a blend of the science of growing up and the reality of it," Catherman explained to those attending his workshop. 

With the rare occasion of his own father and 14-year old son in attendance, Catherman emphasized how empathy and observation has fostered an appreciative attitude with his work regarding parents and their kids. Commenting on his own family, Catherman said that one of his early errors with his two sons was differentiating their differences.

"Relationships take time to work on. In understanding my own boys, I had to key in on the fact that - though they are different - they are also friends. That was a purposeful lesson I discovered from both of them," he said.  

During a business trip several years ago, Catherman was involved in an automobile accident that further emphasized his desire to connect to not only his own children, but others as well.

"In that brief moment of impact with the airbag, it was not my own wellbeing I was thinking about but rather, who was going to raise my boys if I don't survive," he said.

The result culminated in his book, "The Manual to Manhood," which details a variety of simple life lessons and experiences for boys making the journey to manhood. It was during a break-out session later that he put some of the lessons into practice.
With a room full of preteen and teen age boys, he read directly from his 'Manual' on how to give a proper handshake.

"Make sure you are not too far away from the other person, extend your hand....." he explained, going step by step. All the while, mixing in other experiences: from a demonstration on how to use a hammer the right way to how to end a relationship with the wrong girl.

"Guys, you don't want to break up in a text message or using social media," he said.

The messages resonated with many of the boys as laughter and eager participation in each exercise allowed them to offer advice to the author at each stage.

While some of the boys were being amused driving nails into 2x4's, other kids played games with youth peer advisors and groups of girls, engaged with activities using a mix of games and humor.

Jenn Hunter from Comedy Sportz played a series of games that quickly involved a group of girls communicating, relying mostly on eye contact and few words.

"Can you see how just pointing at someone to take your place in the circle forced you to make that connection with your eyes?" Hunter asked as many of the girls laughed while trying not to collide during the game.

Other assistance for the day came from the Oregon Military Teen Panel, a group of High School age youth volunteers with parents in the National Guard.

Conroy said that members of the Teen Panel helped create and lead some of activates for the Back2School Bash, allowing younger kids the chance to interact in a fun but educational environment. 

"What is great about the Teen Panel is that younger kids can relate to them because of what the older kids have already gone through with deployments and separations, but most importantly what it's like to grow up in a military family," she said.

Conroy explained that the Oregon Military Teen Panel has a dual role with a more formal portion where they represent military youth to a broader audience.

"They are the voice of military kids in Oregon," Conroy said. "They have an opportunity to speak to senior leaders, legislators and community groups; both on a state and local level."

After a quick lunch provided by the United States Organization (USO), many of the parents made their way to the drill floor for a health and fitness class. The kids had the opportunity to take a class from the morning sessions or work on art projects in smaller settings.

Winding down the day, the families made their way to the drill floor to pick up new backpacks filled with back to school items, including notebooks, folders, pens and other basics to start the school year.

Lt. Col. Thuy Tran along with her three children was among the families who took advantage of the necessary items provided to Guardsmen families.

Tran, an Optometrist assigned to the 142nd Fighter Wing Medical Group said that many members of her unit could benefit from events like this in the future.

"I know we have several single parents in our group and getting ready for school can be stressful," she said. "I am trying to help create a sense of 'Ohana' within our own unit to hopefully build support much like this event today."

Conroy said there are other upcoming opportunities planned for military youth in the near future to build on the success of the Back2School Bash.

"Our next activity is new and something we've never done before with an outdoor challenge course," said Conroy. Sometimes getting there is the hardest part because once an event or a program starts then the fun really begins."