“What you talkin' about Willis?” Randy Travis? THE FREAKIN' Randy Travis? OK, many of you have no idea who I am talking about. Yeah, thanks for making me feel old. I appreciate that. I remember back in the day when I thought 40 year olds were ANCIENT. Now I think 40 is the new 20. Trust me you 20 year olds, when you hit 40 you will think the same thing. I was totally STOAKED when I found out RANDY TRAVIS was going to do a private concert for our families. Little did I know my smarty pants teenage son would say "Randy who?". Awesome. Then even better than my teenage son saying that, one of our guest (who is barely of legal age to be married - hehe) said the same thing to me. "Who is this Randy Travis guy, some of the older guest seems to be really excited about him". OK, she didn't say THOSE EXACT words, but they were close. ((Anna) you know who you are.)
OK, let's get back on track. I was totally sleep deprived, I had already swigged 2 espressos (yes Carlos, my secret weapon) and was working on a latte when I was heading to the main house for breakfast when Dillon (a guest) passed me and said in a VERY EXCITED but trying to be upset country voice - "Trish, I won't be able to make it to 'Financial Planning' this morning." In my concerned but perky caffeinated voice I said "Dillon, why not it is part of the itinerary..." then Dillon' cocks his head to the side and points to the new horse trailer and says "Randy Travis ask me to go ridding with him this morning, and well, I couldn't disappoint him". WHATEVER. :)
So on Day 4 we had many things planned, financial planning, horseback riding, (I actually think horseback riding was day 3, but I'm still putting it here since I forgot it before) fishing, kayaking, lunch at the boat house, free time, kids only NERF war, kids talent show, Senator Birdwell, and to top it off Randy Travis coming in for a private concert for our families. What a freaking great day...Randy made it even better by showing up an entire day early. (He made his first appearance in the Main Lodge sometime after 11PM the previous night when all of us staffers were hanging out in the staff house laughing and giggling. No one bothered to tell us Randy was hanging in the Main Lodge with our guest. (Thanks guys!)
What a great day it turned out to be......
Anywho... horseback riding....
Dillon feeling smug while he pets Randy's horse.
Dillon and his new BFF, Randy Travis
Kids talent show......
Texas State Senator Brian Birdwell, retired Army LTC and 911 Pentagon survivor - his life story will touch your soul. Read about it in his book "Refined by Fire"
. I was honored to have met such an amazing man.
SHUT THE FRONT door. We invited Randy to do a private concert for our guest, we didn't know he was going to sit in lodge and have a sing along with our guest. How awesome is that? A sing along with Randy Travis.
What a great day, and wonderful night and exciting week! The following morning was check out. No one wanted to leave. Most people hung out till the last minute. The staff cleaned, giggled and cleaned more. Thanks for coming and till next time, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!!
When day two started our guests were feeling pretty pumped about being here! Any reservations they had were gone - especially once they saw the itinerary. The only thing I heard complaints about was the fact that they had to wake up SO EARLY (and yes, we took note for future camps)! Breakfast started at 8AM each morning. I would like all the campers to know they are not the only ones that had a hard time getting up! After the last session each evening we (the staff) would head back to the staff house where we would prepare for the next day, relive the day we just finished, giggle and laugh until our abs & cheeks hurt so bad that we couldn't laugh or giggle anymore! Then we would be so pumped we couldn't go sleep! It was so motivating for me to be around such a great group of individuals that gave, gave and then gave some more. It was truly inspiring! Most of the volunteers were just 'normal' NON-MILITARY folks that want to say "thank you, we have your back and we salute you". Every single person that was volunteering at the camp was there because they WANTED to be there, including my teenage son. It made my heart swell with pride when Boy 1 ASK if he could come and volunteer with the youth program. We had four teens volunteering in the youth program and they are all amazing individuals each with something unique they brought into the group.
Late at night in the staff house - you can't make up laughter like this!
I think this picture was taken around 1:30AM. Delirium had already set in.
The highlight of Day 2 for our adult guest was DATE NIGHT!!!!!!! The ladies were pampered while the Dads took the kids our for a little bonding time.
Date night was AMAZING! Our guest had NO IDEA what was in store for them! I can't tell you everything that happend on date night, but I can tell you that the city of Waco HUGE in helping CBA pull off a phenomenal date night!
A group of civilians gathered to welcome home our soldiers and to simply say, "Job well done & welcome home'.
CBA guest in downtown Waco.
Day 3: As the staff is getting more giddy by the hour, our guest continue to have more and more surprises thrown at them.
Trish and Julie having a drive by meeting.
Kim having too much fun! :)
Each evening we ended with a hayride. The only problem - none of the guest really cared too much for my singing...HUMPH! :)
And my FAVORITE hayride picture of all time:
Check out Mrs. Teri ... she is in the middle.
Day 1 - Guest arrive. We have 11 military families 9 from Fort Hood and 2 from National Guard. The families had no idea what to expect other than what I had told them on the phone; and at this point I am just another voice on the other end of the phone line promising something that most are skeptical of, something that is too good to be true, something that is sure to disappoint. Some are hesitant to be here, others are excited. Some are here by choice, some not so much. As the families drove off the beaten path to get here I am sure they had a few mixed emotions - I can only imagine what was going through their minds: way out in the boonies, everything is pretty run down, what is up with all these shacks and piles of junk all over the place - some of them were probably cursing that perky voice on the other end of the phone line. Once the guest arrived I think their fears were put to rest a little as they realized they were in for a treat and the person on the other end of that phone like just got a little more credible. Here are a few (OK, a BUNCH!) photos of Moon River Ranch:
As our guest checked in we took them to their rooms. Some were a little worried....no locks on the doors? What is up with that? But most were impressed! The rooms were beautiful and a gift basket awaited them. We had a welcome dinner and a brief orientation where we gave them their daily schedules. After dinner the kids went on a hay ride and the adults headed to the back porch for a little ‘get to know you’ time. Day 1 was a success.
Camp Better America - what is it? Well, since you ask.....
Camp Better America is a 501(c)3 that focuses on the reconnection process for military families after the service member in the family returns from war by having them attend a multiday retreat that is led by a group of professionals. Military families come to resort-like locations where the atmosphere is family oriented and filled with fun. It is an opportunity for the service member and his/her family to relax, let their walls down and reconnect with each other but same time, they will be exposed to leading experts. CBA offers marriage counselors, a financial expert, a leading expert on PTSD, Dr. Frank Lawlis, spiritual advisors, motivational speakers; Dan Clark and Krish Dhanam, as well as Texas State Senator and 911 Pentagon survivor - Brian Birdwell.
Country singer Randy Travis attended the latest CBA (31 July-4 Aug) where he took a few of the guest out horseback riding, performed a private concert in the lodge and helped cook breakfast for the soldiers and their families. CBA also offers extended services to children with their military child life program. The goal is to maintain a relationship with all of the families that come to their camps and continue to offer support, tools and opportunities to these families as they move forward in life.
Camp Better America caught the attention of Admiral Mullen’s office and has recently been named as an Innovate Example by the Department of Defense!
OH, and did I mention that Kimberly & Kathleen (founders of CBA) are my good friend? I met Kimberly a long freaking time ago (don't ask how many years...that is RUDE!) and then she introduced me to Kathleen just a couple of years ago.
I have had the pleasure of working with this dynamic duo and their endeavors with Camp Better America for a couple of years now.
Here are just a few things that go on behind the scenes. (Besides the obvious, planning, planning, planning, OH AND MORE PLANNING!!)
Camp day - getting ready....... (Click on each picture to read the caption..)
To learn more about Camp Better America, register to attend a camp or to donate LOTS and LOTS OF MONEY (OK, we will take any amount - even $1!) go to www.campbetteramerica.org
and we will hook you up!!
Now sit back and enjoy the ride.....
On our last morning at Camp Better America, no one wanted to leave. Everyone was talking about what a fabulous weekend it was. We were reminiscing about all the cool stuff that happened and how it just flew by. However, the staff, which everyone now calls 'friends' was kicking us out, telling us we had to leave the camp at 9AM sharp! What a bummer, as we all wanted to stay, hang out and chat a little more. So we said a few goodbyes, packed our bags and headed home.....
The kids with the FABULOUS Mrs. Teri
Me surrounded by greatness!
And the REAL reason they kicked us out at EXACTLY 9AM....
Seriously, I'm crying right now while posting these pictures. This was so moving, I can't even tell you how awesome this felt, and I'm only a military spouse! I boo-hooed all the way down this street. Very moving, and these Vets, these guys are true HEROS! I'm at a loss for words. (Yes, me.)
If you would like to volunteer or make donations for a future Camp Better America go to www.campbetteramerica.org
click on 'Volunteers & Sponsors". If you would like to see a Camp Better America in your neck of the woods, go to the same link & click 'contact us'. You can also contact me here on the blog, all comments go directly to my email.
We started day 3 down by the campfire with "Dudley's Cowboy Coffee"! (I had Korean coffee in the house; Dudley's Cowboy Coffee was a bit to thick for me!)
After breakfast we had a free morning to do whatever we wanted to do...I tried to get the kids to go to the beach, but none of them wanted to, they all wanted to hang with the fabulous Mrs. Teri! So instead of the beach Dudley took a few of us out and taught us (or tried to teach us) how to shoot!
I know what you are thinking, I look awesome in that picture holding that gun and I totally look like I know what I am doing. Well I should! For heaven's sake, I have seven brothers and a husband in the ARMY! I should know what I am doing. Sadly though, I don't think I could have hit the target if I had been standing 3 feet away. I stink at shooting, if you see me with a gun, you should stand right in front of me, because I promise I will miss. Shooting was fun and all, but I didn't really catch the bug like someone I know.....
Check it out....they are all looking over my shoulder in disbelief. They checked the gun to make sure I wasn't shooting blanks.
Even this Jersey girl was a better shot than me.
A couple of the parents stole some of the kids away from Mrs. Teri!
After our free morning we moved onto a night of inspiration! First on the agenda was inspirational speaker Krish Dhanam ! He was amazing, and my favorite speaker of the entire weekend. His heart was genuine when he said, "I am an inspirational speaker, but when I speak to our military I am humbled and do not feel inspirational, because you are the ones I get my inspiration from." Kirsh is from India & his story is wonderful. Every single person in the room had a tear in their eye at one point or another while listening to Krish. If you ever get a chance to hear this man speak, you must not let the opportunity pass you by.
As if it wasn't enough to hear Krish speak, the next person to arrive at camp was the fabulous Dan Clark
(are you kidding me?!?)! Recognized as one of the top 10 speakers in the WORLD, Dan took time out of his busy schedule to talk to our little camp! As always, Dan captivated his audience and left us flying high!
I know what you are thinking, can there be more? Yes, next up the kids put on a talent show for us! I love this picture of the parents with their FLIPS & cameras!
Girl can hula-hoop rock the hula hoop!
Boy 3's talent was SLEEPING while the dream weavers danced around him. How funny is that?!
These guys could dance like no other!
They all built the flag together, then sang 'Amazing Grace'. (Yes, I was crying.)
Next we had a HUGE Texas style BBQ dinner!
We are not done yet...after dinner Melissa Lawson
(the winner of Nashville Star 2008) performed for us on the ranch! It was a great concert with good company! It was so fun watching everyone dance & having a great time. I even found out (as Boy 3 continued to go on stage to dance with Melissa) that she also has a Boy 3! If you know Boy 3's real name, she has one! They even spell it the same! Crazy!
Another amazing day at Camp Better America!
OK folks, I can't make this stuff up, remember this is a camp where the average person just want to thank you for doing what you do. On day 2 after breakfast we listened to Dr. Frank Lawlis
speak to us - maybe you have seen him, he hangs with Dr. Phil.
I can't believe I forgot to tell you that on day one the 'Love Guru', Michael Bloomberg
came to visit us, giving us tips on how to have a great date night, but more on him later.Next on the agenda we headed to the horse stables!
Upon returning from the stables the guys took the kids fishing while the mom's had makeovers, complete with hair cut, style & make up. They gave me BIG Texas style hair....
Then they put us in a limo, kept our children and sent us away....
Arriving...notice our camera man off to the left? Seriously, the people hanging out to see who was in the limo were WAY disappointed when we all stepped out of the car! ;-)
Waiting for us at our destination was our own Love Guru, Michael Bloomberg (pictured with the lovely Kathleen - one of the founders of CBA)! He planned this entire date for all of us!
Upon arrival at Simply Fondue
in Sundance Square - Ft. Worth we had drinks at the bar, then we were shuffled off to a private room where Pete O'Brian (formerly of the Texas Rangers) was waiting to greet us. Not only did he say a few kind words to us, he gave us a goodie bag from the Rangers, hats, pennants, stickers and box seats for 2 games for our whole family! Wooo-hoooo!!
After all the excitement from Pete O'Brian, we were treated to dinner by the owner of Simply Fondue (I wish I could remember his name!)
If you know me, you know how much I LOVE fondue!!
After dinner there was a horse drawn carriage waiting to take us for a short tour of Sundance Square!
And there it is, another fantastic day at Camp Better America coming to an end.....
As the guest began to arrive the "crazy balloon lady" (she dubbed herself that) from the VFW was waiting to make fun balloon art for all the kids to enjoy (and when I say kids, I mean me)!
After a bit of fun it was time head to the mess hall for lunch. I just love this picture of the J. family heading to the mess hall.
Day one was filled with fun and just getting to know one another at the ranch. The kids immediately took up with Mrs. Teri, she is a Child Life Expert and was in charge of the kid-o's and she took charge with grace and love! This woman is fantastic and I really wanted to bring her home with me! By the end of camp the kids (I'm talking about mine) didn't want to do anything with their parents, they just wanted to hang with fabulous Mrs. Teri.
Once we pried our children out or Mrs. Teri's arms we headed down to the beach.
Oh look, there's our camera man lurking in the field...
Who would have thought we would have our own private beach in the middle of Mineral Wells, Texas?!
Can you believe this is in TEXAS?!?!
Hubby & boy 1 sinking in the sand
We should have wore swim suits....
Back at the ranch the kids ran off with Mrs. Teri while the adults went off to listen to our first speaker. She was a fun and all about the couples (a marriage & relationship expert)...she had us play the game telephone, you know the game, we all played it as children...one person whispers a sentence into the next person's ear, and then it goes down the line of people and the last person says it out loud and 9 times out of ten it isn't anywhere close to the sentence it started out to be. Well, as adults we didn't do any better. She had guys against girls and if you can believe this, the guys won...they were better listeners than the girls. Whatever.
Next up we headed back to the mess hall for dinner!
It had already started happening, by this time the kids wanted a 'kids' table!
OH, and I forgot to mention CISCO gave every couple at Camp Better America a FLIP CAMCORDER!!
That is what Hubby is playing with in this next picture!
The evening was filled with more fun, games, s'mores & just hanging by the campfire. What a great first day of camp!
Just FYI, that big kid in the black shirt is Boy 1. Seriously.
That is one tasty s'more!
These two ladies are not only beautiful on the outside, but on the inside as well. Kimberly (the one without the hat) had a dream; literally, she had a dream ~ her dad came to her and told her to start Camp Better America. She listened to what her dad told her as any good girl would do. She made a phone call to her cousin - he in turn connected Kim with Kathleen, the one in the hat (who is she kidding, she is from Jersey! ;). From that day on these two amazing women have been hard at work to make Camp Better America a reality, and that is exactly what they did the first weekend in May.
Our family had the best of both worlds at Camp Better America. Not only were we volunteers, but we got to participate in all the activities as well. Upon arrival we helped set things up....
I was lucky enough to drive the film crew around while they filmed the grounds, our Jeep & my mad driving skills weren’t quite what they were used to , but we made it work.
These are the fabulous ladies that cooked for us all weekend! We wouldn't have survived if it hadn't been for them!
Here we are getting ready to check out the beautiful Tesoro Escondido Ranch overlooking the Brazos River in Mineral Wells, TX which was donated for the weekend by owner Dudley Hall!
I even caught Mike working hard a couple of times!
There was so much more that went on behind the scenes of Camp Better America than what I showed you. I don't know half of what went into this to make this camp happen but what I do know is that it took over a year with countless hours and sleepless nights to make CBA a reality. Thanks to Kim and Kathleen for having a dream and doing something about it. Military families for years to come will forever be changed because you two shared a dream and made it a reality.