More than 40 dependent military children gathered inside the multipurpose room at Randall David Shughart Elementary School in Linden Oaks July 18. They were there to rehearse in front of a wall they painted and constructed themselves for the program, Base Shakespeare, in preparation for a performance for their Family and friends July 20, at 1 p.m.

“The program, unique to Fort Bragg, is not afforded to kids anywhere else in the Army,” said Karen L. Miller, chief of the Fort Bragg Child, Youth and School Services, “The program provides the children an opportunity to enjoy performing and acting while at the same time building their self-esteem and learning some valuable educational skills.”

Joseph Henderson, founder and executive director of Shakespeare on Base said he got the idea to do something for military children after hearing a speech by Karen Mullen, wife of former chairman of the joints chief of staff Adm. Michael Mullen, a few years ago encouraging the American people to provide aid to military Families.

Thanks to the United Way of Cumberland County, a grant from the Youth Growth Stock Trust and some monetary contributions from some Fayetteville car dealerships, Henderson’s desire to provide a free, art enrichment program to military Families became a reality.

“The whole idea was for them to come and learn something from 9 to 3,” said Robert Hines, president and CEO of the United Way of Cumberland County. “Sometimes they need a distraction from all the stress that comes along with being a military child. Here the children are in a safe environment so this is a stress reliever for parents.”

Participants of the two-week camp range from five to 14 years of age.

Many participants have mixed emotions when they first hear about the camp.

“At first I did not want to come to this camp, but my mom forced me,” said Jared Casillas, 12. “The art teacher helped me to improve my art skills, so I really enjoy getting to do something that I really love,” he said.

“The best part of the camp is seeing how bad people really want this,” said Tory Vick, 11. “We all have a love for singing, dancing, acting, or art, so this camp really beats sitting around at home all day doing nothing.”

Jay Dugrot, 13, considers herself to be a singer.

“Aside from meeting new people, the program provided me the opportunity to improve my vocal talents, discuss my feelings and express myself in a new way,” said Dugrot.

For Kyla Washington, 11, the program forced her to come out her shell.

“I love singing, acting and dancing but most people do not know that I am able to do these things,” said Washington. “This program has helped me to get over my shyness and show off my skills,” she said

“I really love the arts, and Shakespeare was the greatest. So this is great to be able to perform some of his work. The camp really helped me to see what my future will be like. I want to attend the Juilliard when I get older,” said Sarah Hunter, 12.

The Juilliard School in New York City is a prestigious academic institution for gifted musicians, dancers, and actors from all over the world.

“It is just so amazing that we have been afforded the opportunity to expose these kids to a very intense level of the arts,” said Danika Manso-Brown, movement instructor and assistant to the executive director of Shakespeare on Base. “The arts are so important, they go really undervalued sometimes. This program will give the kids the tools they need to continue being creative and maintaining the desire to explore new things even after the program is complete.”

In the meantime, Henderson is working on some things in an effort to provide Shakespeare on Base to other military installations across the country. In the very near future, he wants to provide more military children the opportunities like the students here at Fort Bragg have grown to enjoy over the last two years.