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How this Mom CEO Brings Summer Joy to Children of Military Families

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When we learned more about Mary Beth Hernandez, CEO of Camp Corral, we were so impressed with her vision as seen through that of Camp Corral’s and Mary Beth’s ability to be a leader while raising her two teenage children.

Camp Corral, a non-profit, is a free, one-of-a-kind summer camp for children of wounded, injured, ill or fallen military service members. The vision behind Camp Corral is one where kids, ages 8 to 15, are free to be kids, far away from the day-to-day challenges they face as children of military service members. The reality of a parent being deployed away from home for over a year is the norm for children from military families. And for 91 percent of Camp Corral’s campers, a parent coming back injured, wounded or never coming back is their reality. Since its founding, in 2011 as a one camp pilot program, Camp Corral has grown over 750%. Over 17,000 children have been served and the program has expanded to 22 camps. Although any child from a military family is eligible, registration priority is given to children of wounded, injured, ill or fallen military service members.

Here is Mary Beth’s story:

CM: Tell me how you started your career and some of the unique aspects of your journey that got you to where you are today

MBH: Thirty years ago, I would never have expected to be doing what I’m doing now. When I graduated from college, my plan was to be an English professor, so I headed to graduate school. After earning a master’s, I got restless and moved to Washington, DC, where I worked on Capitol Hill as a press and legislative assistant. Soon I was homesick, and moved back to North Carolina and got a job in marketing communications at a pharmaceutical company. Three years into my career, I realized I missed being in a university environment. A friend told me that she’d thought I’d be a good fundraiser, so I applied for development jobs at UNC-Chapel Hill and ended up in an entry-level annual fundraising job. After five years, I was named Associate Dean for Advancement at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work, where I worked for 15 years. I never thought I’d leave UNC, but when the CEO position at Camp Corral opened, I knew I had to go for it. I’d been involved with the organization since its inception and the mission is very close to my heart. It still surprises me that I took such a big risk and left a secure job to run what is essentially a start-up, but it’s a choice I haven’t regretted for a second!

CM: What are some of the most fulfilling aspects of your career?

MBH: Seeing the impact that Camp Corral has on military children and their families. That’s what keeps me motivated and it’s a privilege to serve these families who have sacrificed so much for our country.

CM: How have you grown your career while growing your family?

MBH: I have been so fortunate. My husband is self-employed and has a great deal of flexibility, so he was the one who took the children to doctor’s appointments and various activities. Also, my sister was our nanny, so I never worried about my kids when I was at work.

CM: Have you found being a mom has made your more successful in your career?

MBH: Absolutely, because I’ve learned how to prioritize and manage my time. My children are older, but they’ve both told me how proud they are of me. My teen-age daughter even told me that I’m her role model. It’s the best compliment I’ve ever received! There are always challenges, but like I said, I’ve been luckier than most women because of the active role my husband and sister played in helping care for my children.

CM: What is your advice to younger women and moms who are trying to strike balance between career and family?

MBH: You absolutely can’t do it all, and you’ll always need to make choices between your career and your children. It helps to have a partner who shares the housekeeping and child-rearing, as well as a family-friendly work environment. So many women don’t have these luxuries. Never judge the choices that other women make.

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