This free camp is helping military kids who've paid the highest price learn to be kids.

For years, 9-year-old Miriam Gaston watched her dad Shafer leave home for months at a time to serve as an officer on a submarine.

Last July, she left home for the first time herself. She was going to summer camp.

"It was sort of scary because it was my first sleepaway thing for over 24 hours, and so I was sort of freaking out," she explains.


Miriam Gaston gets her face painted at camp. Photo via Tara Gaston.

For Miriam's mom Tara, the experience of sending her child away to summer camp was both totally completely new — and distressingly familiar.

Just like when her spouse was away, Tara wouldn't see her daughter when she woke up in the morning and when she went to sleep. She wouldn't know if Miriam was sad, got in trouble, or missed home.

For eight days, her 9-year-old would be on her own.

"I had to walk away slowly," Tara recalls, of dropping Miriam off. "And I went to my car and sat there for a second. But then I drove away."

Welcome to Camp Corral.

As she headed off to the dining area to make a name tag, Miriam became one of over 3,000 military kids each year who experience a week summer camp provided free of charge for children of injured, ill, or fallen service members or veterans.

It's a group that includes Miriam's dad — who was medically discharged from the Navy after a multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2015 — and the parents of over 90% of her fellow campers.

The Camp Corral program, established in 2010 by Golden Corral restaurants founder James Maynard and his daughter Easter, takes place at 22 partner camps across the country.

The restaurant chain provides partial funding for the camps. Organizations, including Disabled American Veterans, and individual donors provide the rest.

A Camp Corral camper climbs a ropes course. Photo via Camp Corral.

Some camps have zip lines and ropes courses. Others have rock walls or lakes for boating.

For many campers, the particular activities are less important than the bonds they form with their fellow campers who share many of their same life experiences.

"Everybody there in their cabin, everybody there in their camp, is coming from a similar situation to what they are," explains Leigh Longino, Camp Corral's chief operations officer.

Campers at Camp Corral participate in a flag retirement ceremony. Photo via Camp Corral.

While thousands of organizations support military and veterans in the United States, few exclusively serve their children.

Longino, along with her small staff and a few dozen volunteers, works to provide a safe, healing, fun environment for the thousands of kids who were "drafted" into service, especially as America's overseas conflicts continue to evolve deep into their second decade.

"We are 16 years post-9/11, and this is our population. These are children we’ve got to take care of," Longino says.

The camp gives campers, especially those who have taken on the role of caregiver to a younger sibling while an able-bodied parent takes care of a disabled one, a place to "just to be kids," Longino explains. For Miriam, that meant writing a theme song for her cabin, kayaking, decorating her bunk, and covering her counselors with oobleck.

But it was a dance that was the highlight of Miriam's week.

"Everybody was clapping and jumping, and I’m pretty sure across the lake or river or whatever, the people in the city could hear us," she says.

For military parents, particularly those who have dealt with trauma, sending a child to sleepaway camp can trigger a host of fears, which the camp works to address.

"A parent who obviously has seen their spouse go away to war and come back differently, so now you’re saying, 'You want me to send my child to camp and are they going to come back differently?'" Longino says, of the fears she hears from parents. "We say, 'They’re going to come back better.'"

That means training staff, from directors to counselors, on handling issues that can crop up among the children of wounded, ill, or fallen service members and veterans — including separation anxiety and more severe homesickness.

Photo via Camp Corral.

It also means building in time for older siblings — who frequently take on a quasi-parental role at home — to spend time and counsel their younger brothers and sisters.

Even at camp, however, older brothers, like Miriam's, who also attends Camp Corral, will still be older brothers.

"Every time I saw him, I tried to hug him, but he’d shove me off to go hang out with his friends. Typical older brother stuff," Miriam says.

Camp Corral is also designed to give parents, who have spent many months apart over the course of their relationship, valuable time to reconnect.

"With submarines, it’s not so much the distance, it’s that there’s a lot of time that you can’t talk to them," Tara says.

Tara and Shafer spent Miriam's week at camp helping their in-laws clean out their apartment and preparing to move north to Saratoga Springs. For a family in transition, the camp's lack of a price tag gave them much-needed flexibility to plan the rest of their lives together.

"At that time, we weren’t sure what our income would be, where we would be living, what’s going on. It was very helpful to be able to give them that and not have to worry," she says.

Like most kids, Miriam's last day of camp was the exact opposite of the first.

"She and her friends were hanging out, and she was like, ‘Do we have to go now?'" Tara says.

It was a decision Miriam didn't want to make.

"I was sort of torn. Because if I didn’t leave, I would probably be abandoned by everybody, and there would be storms and I would probably starve," Miriam laments. "But if I did leave, I probably wouldn’t see anybody at the camp again."

As with any camp, Camp Corral is more about about friendships than archery — and more about transforming shy campers, who have already shouldered heavier burdens than most of their peers, into independent young adults.

Photo via Camp Corral.

"A great camp can run a camp in a parking lot," Longino says.

Camp Corral is much more elaborate than a parking lot. And it's free. But it doesn't come at no cost for families like the Gastons, who, for years, sacrificed their stability, health, and childhoods in service to their country.

They've already paid for it.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

In 2015, Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price had a life-changing epiphany.

Price, who founded Gravity with his brother in 2004, was out hiking in the Cascade Mountains with his friend, Valerie. She told him her landlord had raised her rent by $200 and she was struggling to get by on her $40,000 a year income. Price, who was making $1.1 million a year as CEO of Gravity, was struck by her story. Not only did he feel for Valerie—a military veteran working two jobs and barely making ends meet—realized that some of his own employees might be facing similar struggles.

And they were. One employee frankly told him his entry-level salary was a rip-off. Another employee had secretly been working at McDonald's outside of work hours to make ends meet. So Price decided to make a drastic change by investing in his employees.

He researched how much money the average person would need in order to live comfortably and settled on $70,000 a year. In one fell swoop, he dropped his own salary to that amount, while also making it the minimum salary for anyone who worked at Gravity.

The move drew media coverage—and dire predictions from pundits. On Fox News and other conservative outlets he was called "foolish," a "socialist" and a "lunatic of lunatics." Rush Limbaugh called the company policy "pure unadulterated socialism" that was "going to fail" and should be a case study in MBA programs on how socialism doesn't work. Talking heads predicted that his employees would end up in the welfare line.

Six years later, Price has proved the haters wrong—by a lot.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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