Angela Holliday and her 12-year-old son, Buck, had been enrolled in the Army’s Exceptional Family Member Program before, but weren’t fully taking advantage of the services available to their family.
At Camp Soar, a free Fort Leavenworth camp for military children with special needs, Holliday and her son were introduced to a world of new resources that are available to them.
Buck is a child with autism spectrum disorder, and his father, Staff Sgt. Buck Holliday, is serving overseas. The family lives off post, so Angela Holliday wasn’t aware of some of the activities available for her son.
Buck is now enrolled in TRICARE Echo, a special insurance option that helps pay for services like advanced behavioral therapy, which research has shown to be effective in helping people with autism.
Holliday also learned about EFMP’s monthly bowling and met other parents and children with the same disabilities as her son.
Buck was excited about riding a horse and meeting new friends at camp.
“This is a good day for him,” Holliday said. “He’s not usually this talkative.”
Camp Soar, in its fifth year, catered to any military-connected child with special needs. Children had to be enrolled in EFMP to participate. The three-day camp took place during the day June 5-7 at Hunt Lodge, so that children could go home at night. Activities included therapy horseback riding from Watkins Ranch, visits from therapy pets through Human Animal Bond, arts and crafts, a look inside a firetruck, science activities and music therapy activities. Children could also play on the playground equipment or in a bounce house.
Jennifer Burford, EFMP manager, said this year’s camp had a record 39 children sign up.
“We want them to have the same camp experiences, like all their peers,” she said. “It helps with socialization because they’re interacting with children their own age.”
Shantel Rush, normally a school nurse at Patton Junior High School, works at the camp each year to make sure the special needs children have their appropriate medication available to them when it’s needed. She also walked around the camp to make sure each child stayed hydrated during the warm weather.
“It’s very good for socializing, and it gets them out of the house and meeting new kids,” Rush said.
The number of volunteers at Camp Soar typically exceeds the campers, so that each child can be escorted by two or three adult volunteers. For children with an autism spectrum disorder who tend to run off or children with complex medical needs, it can be a much-needed break for parents or the primary caregivers. Parents were able to stay and observe their children at Camp Soar, but many chose to use it as a respite opportunity.
Burford said this was part of the reason Camp Soar is in June around graduation time at the Command and General Staff College — to give parents a chance to pack household goods or run errands without having to worry about a special needs child.
Volunteers from Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, Mission Command Training Program, the Directorate of Emergency Services and others from the Fort Leavenworth community were there to help.
One volunteer was Jackie Madden, spouse of a 15th Military Police Brigade Soldier, who was a paraprofessional at the family’s previous duty station and is the sibling of a developmentally disabled child.
“A lot of them watch their typical sibling go to camp and it’s something they can’t do, so it’s good to have something they can do,” Madden said.
For more information about EFMP activities, visit the EFMP office inside the Resiliency Center at 600 Thomas Ave. or call 684-2871.