Belvoir families experience firsts with
Fort Belvoir Eagle – 11 Sep 2008
By Tamika Matthews
Three Fort Belvoir families had an amazing day of firsts at Leesylvania State Park Sunday when the annual CAST for Kids event was held there.
CAST, which stands for “Catch a Special Thrill,” hosts children with special needs, including autism or Down Syndrome, and allows them the chance to experience fun and exciting new outdoor opportunities.
Twenty-five families were taken out on the water by boat captains who volunteered their own watercraft and time for the special cause.
Fort Belvoir’s families - the DeLongs, the Thompsons and the Cornetts - all found out about CAST for Kids through the post’s Exceptional Family Member Program, and all attended for the first time in the event’s three-year history.
Kathy Thompson was ecstatic to be a part of the event this year with her 6-year-old son, Caden. Thompson said she’d heard about CAST last year, but it was too late for her to register.
She said she stayed in touch with Rene’ Fizer, EFMP program manager, to ensure she didn’t miss registration this year.
“We wouldn’t have missed it for anything this year,” she said.
Lt. Col. Todd DeLong, commander of the 2nd IO Battalion, brought his 18-year-old daughter, Megan, to the event. Megan has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
DeLong said she enjoyed the boat ride that morning, the first the family has taken. “It was a beautiful day,” he said. “We had a good time. There were lots of laughs and we caught a big bass, too.”
DeLong felt it was a great opportunity for children to get out and try new things, but it was also great for the community overall.
“I think this is something that offers great support for all kids,” he said. “It’s a community event and I’m grateful for what everyone has put
Shannon Cornett and Tanner, her 6-year-old son, also with cerebral palsy, enjoyed their first outing on the water as well.
“He was screaming with excitement on the boat,” she said with a laugh. “That was the best part for him, just going fast. The boat ride was
Tanner also ended up with a fish, which Cornett said, was great because he had an opportunity to touch it and hold it in his hands.
“It was my first time out here, and I had no idea what to expect,” Cornett said. “It’s been greater than anything I could have ever thought.”
Back on the shore, plenty of other activities waited for CAST members.
Lowes set up a supervised booth for children to build their own fire trucks and crafts. Customs and Border Protection, a branch of the
Department of Homeland Security, brought a pair of puppies being primed to become detector dogs. The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia displayed resident birds used for educational purposes.
DeLong said a visit to the conservancy booth was definitely a must-do. “I’m going to go check out the owls in a little bit,” he said, smiling. “I know [Megan] will want to see them, too.”
Scott Campbell is the former president and executive director of Parents of Autistic Children of Northern Virginia and a board member of the Autism Society of America. He brought his two children, Meagan, 11, and Ian, 10, to the CAST for kids event for the third time. Ian is autistic, while Meagan has a mild learning disability.
Campbell is hosting a Nov. 6 discussion for parents with autistic children at Fort Belvoir to help them learn about assistance available to military families.
“There’s so much that needs to be done,” he said. “People need to know what’s out there for them.”
Campbell said events like these allow for camaraderie that’s often missing in the everyday world. “This is a safe event,” he said. “No one looks at you weird because of what your child is doing. No one’s giving you unsolicited parenting advice you didn’t ask for. It’s all about having fun today.”
Caption: by Donny Biggs
Debbie Campbell, left, and her son Ian Campbell, 10, with volunteer Anthony Vining, display the catfish they caught during the C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation fishing tournament, Sept. 7, at Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge.