There were many truly touching moments, says Elizabeth. A 15-year-old girl whose mother had post-traumatic stress disorder realized, "My mom's wounded inside, and that's why she doesn't give me many hugs anymore." A 14-year-old admitted that it sometimes annoyed him to be considered the "man of the house." Austin and Hunter learned that others' dads got angry also. "Over and over, we heard kids say, 'That happens to you too?' " Elizabeth recalls. When the camp ended, they didn't want to leave. "Considering we were competing with Disney World, that seemed pretty remarkable," says Elizabeth.
CSAH sponsored Camp C.O.P.E. for two more years. Then Elizabeth and Sarah began taking their program to military bases nationwide. That meant they had to file for nonprofit status and begin covering costs themselves. So far, they have completed 18 camps, serving about 2,500 children. Parents gratefully report that kids who attend are calmer and have fewer behavioral problems at school. Besides targeting families of injured service members, Camp C.O.P.E. now includes those of deployed and fallen soldiers.
Donations must cover supplies, travel, meals and the small stipends paid to counselors. "It's challenging," admits Elizabeth. "But every time we start worrying about money running out, something comes through." Most recently, they scored $100,000 from Taste of the South, a charitable organization based in Washington, D.C. Camp C.O.P.E. also won $5,000 from Newman's Own and the Fisher House Foundation.
Still, Elizabeth often stays up late applying for grants, because her days are busy—she has a full-time counseling practice and a toddler. (Son Sawyer was born in December 2010.) But her efforts are paying off. Last year Camp C.O.P.E. received a $220,000 grant from the Lynx Foundation in California. The Bob Woodruff Foundation, established by the wounded journalist and his family, has also contributed generously. All money goes toward upcoming camps.
Meanwhile, Camp C.O.P.E. has become a family affair. Tracy, back to work running a medical supply business, organizes golf fundraisers. Hunter and Austin volunteer at camps. Elizabeth and her cofounder, Sarah, both bring along their little ones (and their mothers and nannies) when running an event. "In these families, the need for children's counseling is greater than ever," says Elizabeth. "Still, the strength of the kids just amazes us."
Austin Reep's upbeat outlook was evident in the letter he wrote to a military child at the Killeen, Texas, Camp C.O.P.E. event: "Never blame yourself. Always look forward to tomorrow, 'cause it's another day. No one knows what is ahead, but the sun and moon will always shine. Love is strong and so are you."
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