MONTPELIER - Vermont Martial Arts Master Laurie Shover and chief instructor at the Villari School of Shaolin Kempo along with Darrel Duffy began providing programs for military children and teens in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The school provides free martial arts training to any child with a parent deployed overseas.
As an outcome of running these unique youth-oriented programs, the school's dojo has teamed up with Operation Military Kids (known simply as OMK), a non-profit organization that provides programs for military families from deployment to re-integration support. OMK helped Duffy to obtain grants to provide more and better martial arts camps to military youth.
Duffy has over 15 years of experience in martial arts and working with young people going through personal and familial upheavals. He prides himself in what he does and knows that he can-and does-make a difference in the lives of his students.
Duffy gives credit to his wife and instructor, Master Laurie Shover, "She has taught me everything about being a teacher of Shaolin Kempo, and I just hope that one day I can be half as good as her."
Laurie Shover of Bristol, Vermont started her journey in 1975.
Shover credits her brother, Master Lou Cousino of Mountain Kempo, for starting her in the martial arts. "If it wasn't for my brother Lou, I don't know where I'd be today," she said. "I was heading down a bad path in life, and he made me come to class with him. Now after all these years had he not made me, I would not have been able to have taught the thousands of people that have come to our studio."
Shover and Duffy have expanded their martial arts studio from a single location in South Burlington to six locations-St. Albans, Richmond, Monkton, Ferrisburgh, and Middlebury.
The duo also has plans to open three new locations, to be announced at their 30th anniversary celebration at the end of the summer.
Shover and Duffy were motivated to open the new studios by the tough economic times and the fact that people are not able to to travel to South Burlington.
"We want all the military families to know that we appreciate all that they do for our country, so we would like to invite them to visit any of our locations. Even if a child does not have a parent deployed, we will still give them three months of tuition-free training,"Shover said.
All of the activities at what the studio calls Camp Gratitude-the most recent Villari-organized camp for military kids- are interactive, without a cell phone or Ipod in sight.
Without the distraction of text messages or television, young people receive individual attention in the form of Qigong (Chi Kung) classes, taught by Shover, as well as educational field trips to the South Burlington Fire and Police departments. Villari's young students also met the Vergennes State Police K-9 unit.
Camp Gratitude is run by a Shaolin Kempo school and the field trips are grounded with traditional karate training which teach lessons about health and healthy lifestyles.
The biggest surprise for the Kempo kids was being invited to Montpelier to meet Gov. Peter Shumlin a few weeks ago. There, the governor held a private signing of a proclamation declaring the Month of the Military Child.
Duffy said, "We had this camp planned for weeks, when I got a call three days before the scamp was slated to start, asking if we could re-arrange our Thursday lineup to fit the signing in. How could I say no to something as important as this?"
If you would like to receive more information about Villari's programs for military children and teens, you can e-mail Darrel Duffy at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are curious to learn about Villari's style of martial arts, Duffy tells youngsters that it's a bit like mixing the "Karate Kid" with the "Kung Fu Panda".