• Special children gather at Camp Soar

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    Thirty special needs children, ranging from first grade to high school, participated in three days of arts and crafts, horseback riding and other activities during the Exceptional Family Member Program’s 10th annual Camp Soar June 5-7 at Hunt Lodge.
    “I’ve worked in this program a long time and saw that there was a need for recreational activities for the children so that they can have a real camp experience like their siblings and their peer group because a lot of the children require one-on-one care and can’t attend regular camp programs,” said Jennifer Burford, EFMP manager.
    “The purpose is to give them a fun summer and hopefully to foster new friendships and to learn new skills that they may not have yet acquired,” she said.
    Activities included painting, coloring, an inflatable play area, bean bag toss, limbo, a slip-and-slide, tic-tac-toe, board games, swings, firetruck tours, and the opportunity to interact with pet therapy teams from Fort Leavenworth Human Animal Bond.
    “We don’t want it to feel so much like school. We want them to really have fun and just be a kid and enjoy,” Burford said. “It raises their sense of independence because they’re allowed to navigate through all the various activities and kind of choose what they want to do.”
    Camp Soar catered to children with a range of special needs from cancer survivors and liver transplant patients to children with autism, acid reflux disease, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and Down syndrome.
    Burford said having a camp close to home is beneficial both for the children and the parents.
    “There are so few camp opportunities for children with special needs here in the state of Kansas (and) I don’t know that these children would do well at overnight sleepaway camps. This way, they know they’re close to home (and) mom and dad will pick them up after camp (giving) them that feeling of security,” she said.
    “For the parents, they know that their loved ones are going to be safe and have a good time because we always have a (registered nurse) on duty to assist them with their needs and that each camper has a camp buddy to help them navigate all the camp activities.
    “Somebody always has eyes on the child and can assist them and encourage them and just be a friend,” Burford said.
    Forty volunteers, including high school students, college students, Fort Leavenworth firefighters and service members, served as camp buddies to help each child navigate through the camp and from one activity to another.
    “When I grew up, my neighbor had autism and was my best friend, so I like to help autistic people,” said Camp Soar volunteer and high school freshman Cadence Christenson.
    Page 2 of 3 - Camp Soar volunteer and college freshman Annaliese Waugh said she wanted to be with her little sister Trina Grace Waugh, 12, who has Down syndrome.
    “I wanted to be with her (and) I like working with other kids and people with autism and down syndrome,” she said.
    Terrell Copeland, 10, said he liked his camp buddy, high school senior Carlos Vega.
    “He’s a nice guy,” Copeland said. “We talk to each other and we just tell each other good game and all that kind of stuff. Me and him we worked and we tried hard on the bean bag toss.”
    Parents said they recognized right away the benefit Camp Soar offered their children.
    Kerri Moye, whose daughter, 7-year-old Oliva Moye has severe acid reflux disease, said she felt it would help open her daughter’s eyes.
    “It was important for me to tell her ‘There’s some that are going to be in wheelchairs and there’s some that are going to be like you where you can’t tell that there’s anything wrong,’” Moye said. “I hope that she sees that even though everyone may have a different disability or ailment that everyone’s the same and that you can have fun together.
    “I already know her heart is open to accepting everyone, but this is going to give her a bigger life experience being with other children with disabilities,” she said. “I think it’s special that all the kids get to be together and the disabilities just disappear.”
    Tiffany Reynolds, mother of 8-year-old Antonio Reynolds who has autism, said she wished there were more camps like it offered other places.
    “A lot of people don’t understand that our kid doesn’t necessarily fit in with more a typical type,” Reynolds said. “If there is a problem — if he starts stemming (self-stimulatory bevavior) or if he’s repetitive — it’s not like everyone’s looking like, ‘Who is that kid and what’s going on?’ People get it (and) it can be addressed and they don’t offer that in regular camp.”
    “The fact that he’s around other peers and he can socialize, that’ll be great,” Reynolds said. “That’s his biggest deficit.”
    Veteran camp participant Elaina McDaneld, 10, said she thought Camp Soar was fun.
    “I like the horses and the dogs and the art the most,” she said.
    Adam Gisler, 10, said he would encourage other children with special needs to attend.
    Page 3 of 3 - “Don’t be shy,” he said. “You get to meet new friends and you can have fun.”
    For more on the EFMP, call 684-2800.
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