• Camp SOAR caters to special needs children

  • Camp SOAR was June 6-8.

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  • Christopher Burnett | Staff Writer
    Fort Leavenworth’s Exceptional Family Member Program offered Camp SOAR June 6-8 at Hunt Lodge for children enrolled in the EFMP.
    Installation EFMP Manager JenniferBurford said Camp SOAR is an Army Community Service initiative for campers entering the first grade in August through high school. She said campers had opportunities to do arts and crafts, go on nature walks, and play various sports and games.
    Camp SOAR is for children connected to the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard enrolled in the EFMP for their branch of service, including National Guard and Reserve component EFMP children, Burford said.
    “Camp SOAR is a three-day summer camp specifically designed for children with special needs. Parents provide a brown bag lunch with a snack and a bottle of water each day,” Burford said. “The purpose is to provide a fun experience.”
    A registered nurse is on duty throughout Camp SOAR, and Burford said each camper is assigned a camp buddy, like high-school-aged volunteer Austin Shoffner, to help them have fun, stay safe and enjoy a real summer camp experience. She said the camp also depends on volunteers like Shoffner to help achieve the goal to provide a meaningful experience to its participants. Shoffner agreed.
    “This is my second year volunteering at Camp SOAR. Honestly, I have to give credit to my mom for the idea because I wouldn’t have known about the opportunity if she had not discovered it,” Shoffner said. “I came back again this year because I believed I was contributing to a good program and wanted to offer to help.”
    Jessica Couceiro’s 9-year-old daughter Skylar attended Camp SOAR for the first time. She said Skylar, who will be in the fourth grade at Bradley Elementary School, sincerely enjoyed the camp.
    “Camp SOAR is an excellent idea for children. It gives them the opportunity to experience activities in this type of setting,” Couceiro said. “Skylar enjoys being able to interact with the other children, playing and has especially enjoyed the water slide.”
    Couceiro said EFMP has been a very helpful program to her family. She said Skylar is the youngest of three girls and although she had to have a liver transplant at age 2, is very active.
    “Our family has been in the military for 18 years. We were at (Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.) for seven years before coming to Fort Leavenworth in February,” Couceiro said. “EFMP has helped ensure that we have the medical resources we need for Skylar.”
    Burford said she first facilitated EFMP Camp SOAR as a two-day program in 2008. She initiated the EFMP recreational bowling program the same year.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Next year will be the 10th anniversary of Camp SOAR,” Burford said. “I try to schedule the camp during the week of the Command and General Staff Officer Course graduation because it is a tremendous help to the (transitioning) families.”
    Because so many of the children who attend Camp SOAR are on the autism spectrum, Burford said having a fun and safe place to be during CGSOC graduation week is a positive thing toward maintaining normalcy during a time of significant transition.
    “Having packers and movers in their homes, seeing them pack up all their belongings and then seeing everything being packed up and removed from their homes can be a bit much for the children,” Burford said.
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