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Mission: Family: Military Kids grants give young athletes a leg up

Aug. 2, 2012 - 08:09PM   |   Last Updated: Aug. 2, 2012 - 08:09PM  |  
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In 2006, 11-year-old gymnast Gabrielle Douglas dreamed of going to the Olympics. She had just entered into elite gymnastics, and had the opportunity to train with gymnasts on the U.S. team at a camp in Texas.

A $500 grant from the nonprofit organization Our Military Kids helped the daughter of Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Timothy Douglas attend that camp and move closer to her goal, training with renowned coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi.

"We didn't know in 2006 that in 2012, she'd get the only guaranteed spot on the women's gymnastics team," said Gabrielle's mother, Natalie Hawkins.

As of this writing, Gabrielle, now 16, was training with the team in Texas and preparing to fly to London. "I'm really proud of her," Hawkins said. "She says she can't wait to wear those red, white and blue stripes down her back and down her arm."

Gabrielle has the talent and drive to get there, but the family has made sacrifices along the way. Hawkins estimates she's spent more than $150,000 for competitions and training, including travel for Gabrielle, Hawkins and her coaches, hotel rooms, tuition and competition leotards.

"Things were very tight for the family. Our Military Kids helped us out at a time when we really needed that money," Hawkins said. She learned about the group through a flier in a packet she received at a briefing when her husband was about to deploy.

Our Military Kids was founded in 2004 to support children ages 3 to 18 of National Guard and reserve families that often become financially stretched during deployments. The organization gives grants of up to $500 for activities like sports and fine arts, and tutoring programs to nurture and sustain children while a parent is deployed.

The group receives quite a few thank-you notes and emails from military parents and students who have received grants, said Linda Davidson, executive director of Our Military Kids.

One child received a college football scholarship as a result of being discovered while attending a football camp with a grant from Our Military Kids, she said.

"Even if they're not going to the Olympics, the impact can be great for that child. It may be in a smaller way, but still life-altering," Davidson said.

"You don't know where a child is going to go in a sport," Hawkins said. "To give them an opportunity to pursue their dream … that's phenomenal. You don't know where they'll end up."

Hawkins looks forward to the day when she can give back to Our Military Kids.

"I want to be a part of that in someone else's life, because I've seen what it meant to my life."

kjowers@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Karen Jowers is the wife of a military retiree.

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