Camp, Soldiers help EFMP children
August 12, 2010
Fort SILL, Okla. -- Camp Cowabunga was another success, according to the Soldiers and campers, who participated, and the camp director.
The 49 campers, 80 Soldiers and staff volunteers all seemed very happy with the activities and events throughout the weeklong camp Aug. 2 through 6, said Christine Carruthers, camp director and Exceptional Family Member Program manager.
"The purpose of Camp Cowabunga is to provide an opportunity for children, who cannot participate in other summer camps due to their conditions, to experience the joys of summer camp," said Carruthers. "This is a camp designed with them in mind. It gives them an opportunity to interact with other children and gives their parents a respite opportunity as well."
This year's camp was one week but it didn't stop the kids from getting every ounce of fun and friendship out of it.
"Regardless whether it was one or two weeks long, our goal was to offer the best quality summer camp we could. At the end of that week the kids were excited with the camp and you can't really put a time limit on that. We offered a quality summer camp, kept the kids safe and they had a lot of fun," said Carruthers.
Col. Raymond Lacey, Fort Sill Garrison commander, opened the camp by telling Soldiers and campers they had two missions this week.
"One is to make friends and the second is to have fun and we accomplished those missions," he said.
"I think the children and the Soldiers enjoyed all the activities but everybody seemed to enjoy the water events like swimming the most," said Carruthers. "The activities we did were so diverse: we danced, swam, did a scavenger hunt, bowled, had a carnival and toured the Field Artillery museum and visited with the half section. We did so many cool things."
Sgt. Gregory Hall and Staff Sgt. Derek Salley, both of Headquarters, Headquarters Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery, said volunteering to be buddies to campers has been a life-changing experience for them.
"It's an opportunity to work with those who have special needs," said Hall. "I have a cousin that has Down syndrome, and I used to spend the summers with him when I was a kid. I think it's a very rewarding experience for me and the children in the camp. It allows them to excel in the things they like to do. To see the happiness in their faces it makes it all worth it."
For Salley, volunteering for the camp was a chance to give back to the community.
"I have a daughter who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and she's also bipolar so I deal with special needs on a daily basis. So for me to come out here and help someone else is just very rewarding," he said. "This camp has taught me a lot and my buddy has taught me more than I could ever teach him. He has taught me to have an open mind and to see the happiness and love in children. They are full of love and friendship and I'll take that with me wherever I go in the future."
Hall said his buddy, Alex, has taught him to view things in a broader spectrum because not every activity is catered to every type of person.
"This camp has taught me to look at other ways to involve him in the activity," he said. "It just reiterates to me that they are a blessed part of life and experiencing them really just shows my human side. I mean it shows me to have that kind of humanity to understand that everyone doesn't have to be the same as you. It makes you think of others before yourself."
Hall and Salley said they would recommend that Soldiers volunteer for Camp Cowabunga.
"I think it takes a certain kind of Soldier to do it, but anybody can rise to the occasion," said Hall.
Salley said he does recommend it for anyone who wants to volunteer and to give back but not for those who just want to get out of work or something else.
"If that's your focus, this camp is not for you. This is the ultimate reward, to get the love and friendship from these kids. This one week will change the rest of your life. You'll never forget this experience," he said.
Staff Sgt. David Ferris, Headquarters, A Battery, 3rd Battalion, 6th ADA said he had never been a camp buddy before.
"I decided to do it this year because I am a single parent and I like taking care of kids. I felt it would be a good experience. I've learned a lot the campers have a lot of willpower and they set a good example for everybody," he said.
Ferris' buddy camper, Ariel Yoder, said, "I like my buddy because he is really nice. I've had fun with him. We went bowling together, and I was the better bowler. We're going to LETRA tomorrow. I never went there before. I'm going to take my swimming suit and go on the paddle boats and swim."
Ferris said Yoder taught him to bowl and she'll probably teach him much more before the camp ends. "There's a lot you can learn even about yourself. It'll help develop leaders to be more understanding of those who work for them. I will definitely be back next year if I'm still at Fort Sill. I would recommend being a camp buddy to other Soldiers because it's a good learning experience."