FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- More than 75 volunteers in the Fort Drum community helped children come out of their shells, bond with camp "buddies" and connect with their peers last week during Fort Drum's fifth annual EFMP Mountain Camp.

The fun-filled week of activities is a respite care service of the Exceptional Family Member Program, which helps provide support and services to Family Members with special needs.

Michelle Wojcikowski, EFMP program assistant, said this year's camp was a "huge success."

"I think the biggest success was just seeing how our Soldiers really bonded and connected with their campers," she said. "They were just like big brothers and big sisters for these kids. It was exactly what you would want to see with somebody role-modeling and mentoring your child."

The camp offered nearly 40 exceptional Family Members everything from white-water rafting and roller skating, to fishing and crafts, depending on their ages and abilities. All of the children enjoyed a day trip to the Enchanted Forest Water Safari at Old Forge.

The week ended with parents being invited to an awards ceremony and luncheon Friday, which, due to rain, took place at Army Community Service instead of Remington Park.

During the camp, each child partnered with at least one "buddy" who became a friend, coach and personal mentor. By their buddy's side, campers gained self-confidence, were encouraged to get involved and, more times than not, learned to let their hair down.

"This was her first year," Andrea Lamanteer said of her 8-year-old daughter Riley. "For us, it was a great experience, because she is the kind of kid that is a recluse. So for her to do something that's totally out of her norm and to experience things that she normally doesn't experience has just been awesome."

Riley's buddy, Cristal Gonzales, whose husband is 2nd Lt. Angelo Gonzales Jr., 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, bragged about Riley's first time fishing.
"She caught five fish!" Gonzales said. "And she made three friends."

Spc. Dean Lampman, a member of 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, returned to the EFMP Mountain Camp this summer to be 7-year-old Jarod Spurlock's buddy for a second year in a row.

"I bonded with Jarod (last summer), and it really showed me how much they get out of it," Lampman said. "To see how happy he gets, it makes me feel good inside. I've seen him really grow."

Without the EFMP camp, Michele Spurlock said she would not know where to send her son, who has a severe peanut allergy.

"It's hard to get him to go into other camps, because they don't want other foods coming in," Spurlock explained.

She said the last time her husband, Sgt. 1st Class David Spurlock of 1st Brigade Combat Team, deployed to Afghanistan, Jarod accidentally ate a peanut butter-filled pretzel and was rushed to
the emergency room before her husband even made it down range.

"Jarod thought pretzels were safe. It was just one of those things. You can't be 110 percent all the time," she said.

Spurlock added that not only does her son benefit, but the Soldier who has taken Jarod under his wing also has benefited.

"I think it has been a two-way thing," she said.

Another buddy who had a big impact on her camper was Trish Oakley, an ACS volunteer who this October will marry 1st Lt. Richard Auletta, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT.
"I love kids," said Oakley, who was paired with a 5-year-old boy named Ashton. "It was amazing. He was awesome."

His mother praised Oakley for the major impact she had on Ashton.

"He talked so much about her!" said Tina Pearce, whose husband, Spc. Steven Pearce, is a paralegal with the 10th Mountain Division (LI).

"He loved camp. He enjoyed it so much," she added. "It got him involved with other kids. It helped him interact with kids who have other disabilities. He could (relate)."

Marco Lewis, 9, was heartbroken Friday when he arrived at ACS with his mother only to find out he had missed being presented with his certificate and EFMP medal for participating in the camp.
Because his "buddy" was qualifying on a range and could not attend the ceremony, another Soldier jumped in and organized an impromptu ceremony for Marco in the EFMP office.

"I was so glad they did this for him," said Marco's mother, Veronica Lewis. "He was getting ready to cry and fall apart."

Lewis, whose husband is 1st Sgt. George Lewis, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT, went on to say that the EFMP is a vital program in the community.

"I'm really grateful for the EFMP. It really develops their social skills," she said. "If the child is shy, it really helps bring them out of that shyness. They become outgoing and bond with good peers and good role models. These are service members."

EFMP will hold its first fall festival Sept. 22, when the buddies and Families of Mountain Camp will be invited to gather for games, crafts and food at Remington Park.

"We encourage our buddies and Family Members to stay connected and keep the relationship and the bond going for the child and the buddy," Wojcikowski said.

Page last updated Wed August 15th, 2012 at 16:14