By Jason L. AustinJuly 25, 2008
HEIDELBERG, Germany Aca,!" A few minutes earlier OisAfAn Oravetz was kicking an orange cone out of anger for being last to ride the horse, but once on the horse, a large open-mouthed smile spread across his face as he took his first lap.
Aca,!A"You got him on a horse'Aca,!A? said his mom, Jennifer Oravetz, in disbelief about her sonAca,!a,,cs morning.
It was a common scene at the Exceptional Family Member Program Summer Activity, commonly referred to by participants as EFMP Camp, held July 14-18 at U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg.
It was the first year for the camp in Heidelberg, according to Helena Palmer, Heidelberg EFMP program manager.
The camp included a trip to the Wersauer Hof in Reilingen, where Carola Wortmann, a riding instructor trained in therapeutic riding techniques introduced the children, ranging in age from 8 to 12 years old, to her horses. She taught her students in small groups about the care of the animals and let each child take a ride.
Throughout the week, attendees were also able to work with a music teacher and a dance instructor, get their hands dirty with pottery, and go to the Heidelberg Zoo and Luisen Park in nearby Mannheim.
Aca,!A"It was nice not having to explain what is wrong with your kids,Aca,!A? Oravetz said.
The camp provided a social event for the children in a relaxed, less structured environment with knowledgeable and caring adults, Palmer said.
Aca,!A"They get to experience things they may not otherwise do,Aca,!A? Palmer said.
Fourteen children signed up, but only 12 participated, each one receiving a backpack donated, through the Heidelberg ChaplainAca,!a,,cs Office, by First Baptist Church of Altamonte Springs, Fla.
The camp, which Palmer hopes will become an annual event, is one of the many positive aspects of the Exceptional Family Member Program.
EFMP Aca,!A"works with military and civilian agencies to provide comprehensive and coordinated medical, educational, housing, community support and personnel services to families,Aca,!A? according to a Heidelberg Army Community Services pamphlet.
When a SoldierAca,!a,,cs family member, child or adult, is diagnosed with Aca,!A"any physical, emotional, developmental or intellectual disability that requires special treatment, therapy, education, training or counselingAca,!A? their information is entered into the military personnel network after the information is reviewed by a board of providers.
The information is then used by assignment managers to consider the familyAca,!a,,cs needs when moving a Soldier to a new duty assignment.
Enrollment for Soldiers is mandatory. Both parents in dual military families must enroll. For Department of Defense civilians, disclosure of an exceptional family member is required, but will not affect the hiring process. Once a family member of a civilian is identified, his information also is reviewed by a board of providers and the results are given to the prospective employee to help him make an informed decision about the job offer.
Special education needs are only considered for overseas assignments. Once a family with an exceptional child has relocated to an overseas assignment, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe works with the parents to ensure their child has the most appropriate education possible.
The local EFMP program manager, typically located within ACS, also offers a broad range of services. Aca,!A"The ACS supports any ID card holder in the community,Aca,!A? Palmer said.
In Heidelberg, Palmer acts as a focal point for families and various agencies to come together to provide the best care available for exceptional family members.
Among the services she provides is information about available resources and referral to specific agencies when needed. She also maintains a library covering many topics common to families with exceptional family members. Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm not an expert on any one thing,Aca,!A? Palmer said.
Palmer also provides advocacy services for families who may not know, or are hesitant to exercise, the full extent of their rights.
With her contacts at various agencies, Palmer said she can facilitate a lot of the little things, and can also act as a fully fledged advocate during Individual Education Program meetings with DoDDS-Europe teachers and specialists.
One aspect of the program Palmer said she finds rewarding is the support she sees among the various families. She has formalized some of the group meetings.
There is a support group that follows a workshop model, bringing in experts to discuss broad issues that relate to exceptional family members, with one example being a recent meeting led by a dietician.
Another group meets at the Java CafAfA, and is a place for parents to connect, she said.
And each month there is a teen social that brings together 8-10 exceptional teens who donAca,!a,,ct socialize regularly. EFMP provides the location, a few volunteers and pizza.
A new tool in PalmerAca,!a,,cs belt is the Respite Care program, which provides up to 40 hours of assistance to a qualifying exceptional family.
The program, funded through the Army Family Covenant, is designed to allow a primary caregiver time off from caring for someone with special needs. Respite care, based on educational or medical needs, is only provided to military families registered with EFMP.
It is the Respite Care program that allowed Palmer to host this yearAca,!a,,cs EFMP Camp. The program, in addition to direct care, has provisions for care at Child and Youth Services, as well as the ability to use monies for camps or boundless playgrounds.
Palmer said there was a lot of support for the camp from the medical community, the schools and CYS. Aca,!A"We have a really good team here in Heidelberg,Aca,!A? Palmer said.
(Editor's Note: Jason Austin writes for the USAG Baden-Wuerttemberg newspaper, the Herald Post.)