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April 12, 2012
By Melissa Bower, Fort Leavenworth Lamp

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (April 12, 2012) -- She may not be able to walk, but a 6-year-old girl with cerebral palsy got to soar at a camp for special needs children on Fort Leavenworth last year.

Jennifer Bryant's daughter Caroline even got the chance to ride a horse, leaving her wheelchair behind.

The Bryant family loved the Exceptional Family Member Program's Camp Soar so much, they wrote to Installation Management Command about how impressed they were by the program, saying it should be a model for the rest of the U.S. Army.

This year, Camp Soar will be 8:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. June 5-7 at Hunt Lodge on Fort Leavenworth. Parents should register by June 1. The camp is free.

"What's good about Camp Soar is they're not having to drive 45 minutes to Kansas City, and it's not overnight," said Jennifer Burford, EFMP manager on post and organizer for the camp.

This is the fourth year for the day camp, especially designed for children entering the first grade through high school. Burford has organized the camp each year with special activities designed for children with varying needs.

There are activities like horseback riding using a special saddle for children with physical disabilities, music therapy to help children with behavioral issues and visits with certified therapy pets from a group called Human Animal Bond. There are volunteer camp buddy adults for all children, but especially for those who could become a flight risk.

Burford said a nurse would be at the camp, so parents can leave needed medication for their child. Parents are asked to bring a water bottle for their child, a sack lunch and possibly a change of clothes if their child needs one.

Several groups of Soldiers from the Mission Command Training Program and Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers volunteer to be camp buddies. Each child gets at least one camp buddy, usually a Soldier, to help follow the child around and help him or her participate in activities throughout the day camp.

Burford said parents are also welcome to stay during the camp if they would like to do so.

Each camper will get a T-shirt.

Burford said the Fort Leavenworth Fire Department's visit is always popular with the Camp Soar participants.

"The children really enjoy visiting with the fire department, getting on the truck and trying on the hats," she said.

There's a field for sports activities, science projects, arts and crafts, a tabletop water activity, playground equipment and a bounce house. Burford said most activities are self-directed, so that when children get bored with one activity, they and their camp buddies can move on to another activity.

It's also a gateway to find out about other activities that are available yearround, such as Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills programs, off-post pet and horseback therapy groups, and EFMP's Special Olympics Young Athletes program. The Fort Leavenworth Fire Department also has a special partnership with EFMP to check on children and adults in the EFMP program in case of an emergency.

Burford said the camp is scheduled the first week of June because that is a time when a lot of Fort Leavenworth families are preparing to move or are planning for graduation at the Command and General Staff College. This can be a stressful time for some special needs children when extra family are visiting or they are getting ready to move.

"For some children that don't transition well, it's better if they're not there watching packers pack their room and their treasures," Burford said.

She also said it's typically a time before the Kansas summer gets too hot. Burford said children with special needs could be more susceptible to the heat in July and August. Hunt Lodge is air-conditioned, there will be canopies at several activities, and volunteers are aware of the need to keep children hydrated, Burford said.

Families must be enrolled in EFMP to participate in Camp Soar. To register by June 1, call (913) 684-2871.