From Campus to Capitol Hill

Author: TAPS

Equipping Young Survivors for the Future

High school brings young people into a new and exciting world: new friends, new opportunities, and new adventures on the horizon as they move toward adulthood. Their futures await, full of promise and hopefulness.

For a week in July, a group of young survivors and their parents or guardians came to our nation’s capital to participate in the TAPS College Experience, a four-day college preparatory retreat where surviving children who are sophomores, juniors and seniors get the chance to meet with experts in higher education. From available scholarships, budgeting, preparing resumes, and honing interview skills, these students gained valuable tools and encouragement to help them as they take the next steps in their lives and move toward future goals.

Young TAPS Survivors outside Capitol HillPhoto: Tara Ruby

It’s not only the students who need to prepare for college. In addition to cultivating the academic experience for these students, programming was offered for the adult guardian to help the entire family through these milestone moments. Some of the topics discussed included supporting the family, coping with transition throughout life, adjusting to changes in the family system when a child leaves home, developing healthy relationships, encouraging independence and self-sufficiency in the emerging young adults, self-care, and creating a personal identity beyond the role of parenting.

This year’s group of students was diverse, engaged, and motivated to seek success in college and in life. They brought with them sharp and inquisitive minds, eager to learn and grow.

Students visited three colleges during the retreat: Georgetown University, the United States Naval Academy and the University of Maryland. These visits exposed these young survivors to campus life and allowed them to explore some options for continuing their education.

Woven within these visits were valuable sessions to guide students on the college application process, available scholarships, and crafting their stories. As young survivors they have already faced many life challenges. They have profound stories to share about their experiences as well as their aspirations — some directly related to their loss. The “Sharing Your Story” session offered tools and tips for crafting their message, giving it focus and revealing their strength and their determination to succeed. Receiving guidance in sharing their story, both in written and oral form, these students can stand out from the crowd.

A Family Experience

Transformation and confidence were not only reserved for the students. Ensuring their success is a family effort. The TAPS College Experience involved the parent/guardian so the family can embrace this next chapter in life with collective confidence, excitement, and hope.

The adults were given time to connect with one another and have open and honest discussions on the emotions of this milestone time in their children’s lives — and in theirs. Some are experiencing their first child going off to college, some the last child leaving home. Some face with this their only child.

Some of the topics of discussion among the adults included:

  • Apprehensions of a child considering service academies and subsequent military service
  • Letting go of some control as their child becomes an adult and worrying as they move away from home
  • Balancing their role as a parent with fostering independence in their child
  • Other children in the house coping with a sibling leaving home

One exercise offered the opportunity for parents and guardians to give voice to their emotions and their hope for themselves and their children. Given stationery, the adults wrote letters to themselves that will be mailed in six months. The letter was for them to express where they hoped to be in the coming months, reminders of their personal goals or simple words of encouragement. Along with this letter, a blank note card was given so they could write a letter to their child as they depart for college.

The adults had the opportunity to relax and connect, while also witnessing their children gain knowledge and confidence as the week progressed. One mother shared her daughter is where she is today because she had grown up in the TAPS family. This community of survivors had allowed her daughter to be among others with shared experience, stabilize her grief and gain healthy coping skills.

TAPS Young Survivors trying on professional clothingPhoto: Tara Ruby

TAPS Young Survivor at the United States CaptiolPhoto: Tara Ruby

Fashion and Fun

Setting up these students for success included helping them dress the part. With the help of Macy’s at Pentagon City Mall, these young survivors were treated to an afternoon of camaraderie and fashion tips as they selected a new outfit for interviews as they embark on a journey that will help them reach their life goals.

As the week progressed, even those who may have been a bit reserved and shy in the beginning shed their cocoons and exuded a newly found confidence and sense of self. Nowhere was this more evident than at the final activity of the week – a reception on Capitol Hill among congressional leaders and representatives from the business world. These students were able to put into practice all they had learned in sharing their stories and networking, all in their new Macy’s outfits!

Ready to Flourish

An outfit, a relaxation exercise, tips for sharing a story or writing a resume. Individually, these may be small things. Collectively, they can empower young people and their families as they venture into new phases of life. TAPS wants to support these students and their families as they move forward and provide them the tools they need to learn and grow. Having already faced difficult circumstances, there is an inner purpose and strength present that only needs to be nourished in order to flourish.

These students and their guardians came from across the nation. They toured monuments in our nation’s capital, college campuses, and the halls of Congress. Watch out for these young people. They are ready to make their mark and conquer the world!

The next TAPS College Experience is scheduled for July 2020. The application process will begin in January 2020.  See more photos from the 2019 TAPS College Experience.