Family Matters: Interview with Debbie Fink of Operation C.H.A.M.P.S. (Part 2 of 2)

Chazz Pratt
Occasional Contributor

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CP3: Tell me more about the C.H.A.M.P.S. Team. You each seem to keep busy sharing the importance of giving back to the military in other ways.

DF: The CHAMPS Team is comprised of five 20-something (no, not me!) social entrepreneurs who met through a nonprofit leadership and management class at the University of Maryland:  Jennifer Fink, Founder & CEO; Nikhil Balakumar, Co-Founder & CFO; Mary Wadlinger, Operations Officer; Luke Lindberg and Robert Rosenthal, Development Officers.  The team’s Graphic Designer is Jeremiah Castillo, who is currently deployed in Afghanistan, with a wife and two school-age Champs (and team) awaiting his safe return home.


On my end, I keep busy broadening our Alliance; and the energy from my recent USO Tour to mainland Japan and Okinawa motivates me to continue sharing and giving back to military families.  While on tour, I had the honor of reaching 6,000 Champs during 26 ‘edu-tainment’ performances in 13 DoDEA schools.  Thanks to the USO’s support, each Champ received his/her own copy of our book.  We hope to offer additional Operation Champs / USO Tours overseas, while we continue to build out our domestic initiative through a more grassroots approach:  Empowering military spouses and civic-minded civilians to implement our “Traveling Classroom CHAMPKit” program to elementary schools across the Nation, during November’s Military Family Appreciation Month and April’s Month of the Military Child.  NAESP (school principals) will serve as a lynchpin herein.  Together, we can raise civic literacy and cultivate a more sensitive school culture here in the US.


CP3: You seem to make learning fun! Explain the Student Activity Packet and how you developed it. 

DF: Learning can be meaningful fun!  I’m all about experiential learning.  We have compiled a fabulous, user-friendly Operation CHAMPS’ Curricular Supplement that was delivered to each school principal on my recent USO tour.  I had the privilege of working with Angela Wilson, DoDEA’s phenomenal 2012 Teacher of the Year, who created in-class extensions in Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, Character Education, and Counseling.  We also worked with a guidance counselor at an Army base school.  One part of the Curricular Supplement is the Student Activity Packet – available (free) on line for teachers and parents to download.  Each of the book’s sections has an activity to make it personal.  The Curricular Supplement also includes the musical scores and musical appreciation questions for the Music Educators; and Feedback Forms for educators, counselors, and students.  We plan to add a section for PTA parent engagement, too.  It’s meaningful fun and easy engagement for the entire school community!


CP3: Tell us about The Little Champs Song.

DF: I love this story!  My daughter and co-author, Jen, is a talented singer and songwriter (says the objective mother).  One of the book’s characters lives and breathes music.

After the book was written, I said to Jen, “You know, Jen, in the book these Champs have a song.”  She said, “I know, mom!  We wrote the story together!”  To which I responded, “Yes, but you see, they need their song.  I have a big birthday soon, and I’d love nothing more as a gift than to know that our Champs have a song to call their own!” 

It worked!  She and a friend wrote and delivered the most upbeat anthem all tied up with a musical bow!  We then recorded it.  Jen insisted it be sung by a child.  The soloist is an 11 year old girl who has moved nine times. Curious?  Visit


CP3: I noticed you incorporated some music education within the C.H.A.M.P.S. program. How did you use the power of Music in order to build bridges between Champs and Civilian? (As a Musician, I can appreciate this!)

DF: “The Little Champs” song puts their experiences into lyrics and celebrates their service.  We intended to create a musical conversation between Champs and their civilian peers.  The first chorus is CHAMPS singing about themselves.  The second chorus is civilians singing to Champs.  A music educator can then stop and ask (for example), “Who seems to sing the first chorus?”  “Who seems to sing the second chorus?”  “How does this musical conversation help build the bridge of understanding between Champs and civilians?”  Dialogue is sparked.  It’s the power of music at its best.  Add to this the counterpoint/harmony is “This Land Is Your Land.” Everyone, young and old, civilian and military, is thus musically rooted in our collective American heritage. 


CP3: You’ve coined a phrase called “Edu-tainment”! Explain why this approach is so effective.

DF: It’s a great hybrid term.  My performances are both educational and entertainment.  As a mom and educator, I’m compelled to seize every teachable moment.  Yet I also know that we need to reach and teach to multiple learning styles.  Some kids learn better through music; some through visual images; some learn cognitively; some learn kinesthetically.


Any and all of my edu-tainment appeals to all types of learners or “intelligences.”  It’s lots of meaningful fun!  I play my fiddle and we sing; I use a powerpoint with lyrics and illustrations from the book; I teach the military branches and virtues in American Sign Language; I have  volunteer roles; kids march, dance, clap, and more.


CP3: Your program is geared toward a young audience. Any plans to introduce this program for an Adult audience?

DF: Absolutely.  We launched the program during a presentation at AUSA’s 2012 October Meeting’s Family Forum, before an adult audience.  I was a second keynote speaker at Quantico’s Education Leadership Symposium in 2012, following Marilee Fitzgerald (soon retiring as Head of DoDEA).  The audience was educators, administrators, and military leaders in the community.  This September I am the motivational speaker at the Air Force Association’s Spouse & Family Forum, entitled “Empowering Spouses.”  

With that said, adults also enjoy some levity; hence I weave in uplifting music and entertainment into their educational experience, too.  Just like their kids, different adults learn differently; adding visual, musical, and experiential elements to the delivery is a wise pedagogic approach, in my opinion.   And it’s just more enjoyable.


CP3: Any final thoughts?

DF: We need Americans to support our Operation CHAMPS Public Health and Education Initiative.  The more we can spread the word and encourage individuals, PTAs, and  businesses to play their part, the more we can support, comfort, and honor our ~718,000 elementary school age Champs.  We can accomplish this while educating their civilian classmates and communities.  We owe it to our deserving Champs to help them feel understood and supported.  We owe it to our Nation.

Civic Duty calls; together, we must answer.  GO CHAMPS!