MARQUETTE — Daryl J.W. Mackin is in charge of A Soldier’s Child Foundation, which does good works for kids who’ve lost a parent in the military.

Every month, the foundation spends $30,000 sending birthday gifts to more than 200 kids. Each child receives $150 worth of presents, chosen from each child’s wishlist.

Kids receive those presents until they’re 18. The idea is to celebrate the lives of the “children of the fallen,” Mackin says.

According to A Soldier’s Child, the parents were military personnel who “lost their lives on active duty, while defending the United States of America.” Those kids are sometimes called Gold Star Children.

In addition to buying birthday gifts and helping with scholarships, A Soldier’s Child Foundation takes the kids to camp.

On Thursday, Mackin and 19 young people arrived at Timberlake Ranch Camps near Marquette. The young people, who are between 9 and 17 years old, will be joined by two more kids today. This is the first time Mackin has brought a group to Nebraska.

During the weekend, the kids will ride horses and play a multitude of outdoor games.

Nine of the kids come from Tennessee, where A Soldier’s Child Foundation is based. Four come from Florida.

The four from Florida are Max Guinn, 13, and his three sisters. Their dad, Markus, who was in the Navy, died in 2015 at the age of 34.

The Guinns, like some of the others, have been to multiple camps.

“I love these camps,” Max said, adding that Mackin is “an awesome” guy.

“I believe God put love in his heart for us,” said Max, who lives in Yulee, Fla.

Kacilina Pollard, 9, also likes the camps. “I think they’re lot of fun,” said Pollard, who lives in Clarksville, Tenn. At one camp, she shot a squirrel. Her dad, Nathan, was in the Air Force. He died in 2018 in Alaska.

Only a few members of the group come from Nebraska. Heather Vonloh brought her two kids from Bertrand. She has attended A Soldier’s Child Foundation camps with her kids for four years. Her kids are Dusty, 9, and Grace, 12. Their father, Dustin, was 23 when he died in 2009. She was pregnant with Dusty at the time.

Heather Vonloh is actually the one who chose Timberlake as the group’s destination. To pay for the camp, funds were raised by the Legion Riders of Omaha, who held a poker run, and the Nebraska State Legion. Funds also came from a memorial run held in Dustin Vonloh’s honor and Operation Wardog, which honors the late Jon Warrington of Gibbon.

The other Nebraskan on hand Thursday was Payton Hamburger, 10, of Lincoln. Her father, Pat, died when she was 3.

Mackin, who is originally from New York, lives in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

The organization started when a neighbor asked Mackin a question. The neighbor’s son had been killed by a sniper in Iraq.

“He said to me one night in anger, ‘Did it really freakin’ matter? And does anybody even give a damn?’ He was mad,” Mackin said.

“I’m a veteran. I served six years in the Navy. I consider myself a patriot,” Mackin said. “I love the men and women who wear the uniform, and I realized in that moment I never once thought of the families left behind. It hit me pretty hard.”

His next thought was about his own death. What would happen to his kids if he died an early death? That night, A Soldier’s Child Foundation was born.

Many kids who’ve lost parents suffer anxiety and depression, he says. His goal, he said, is to “love on them” and help them live a good life.

The organization started more than 10 years ago. Mackin, who was a cook in the Navy, taught culinary arts in high school for almost 20 years.

Eventually, he realized he couldn’t both teach and run the foundation. So he resigned from teaching and now devotes his full time to A Soldier’s Child.

The foundation, which serves almost 4,000 kids, receives no government funding.

The organization, which has a budget of $1.2 million, is doing 17 camps this year.

If you’d like to make a donation, visit www.asoldierschild.org or send it to A Soldier’s Child Foundation, P.O. Box 11242, Murfreesboro, TN 37129.

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