Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
More than sixty campers, counselors and visitors were at Camp Kiwanis in Beaver Creek Park this past week for a special event: the opportunity to give some children and youths a camp of their very own. “To me camp is like a place I can get away from all that happens to me at home,” Brandon Renkin of Gardiner, 14, said Tuesday. “I can start over fresh.” Renkin, one of 27 campers who suffer from muscular dystrophy, a disease that causes the body’s muscles to degenerate, had just taken second in wheelchair races the best he has done in nine years of attending the camp, sponsored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association. MDA sponsors the camp for people with muscular dystrophy ages 6 to 21 in Montana and part of Wyoming, and has held it at Camp Kiwanis for the past eight years. James Beck of Belgrade, 20, said he moved to Montana from Oklahoma about five years ago and has attended the Montana camp every year. He went to five MDA camps in Oklahoma before that. “I definitely like this one better. It’s a bit more laid back,” he said. The Oklahoma camp was very tightly structured and scheduled, he added. He said the best part about the camp is the people. “The main thing is hanging out with everyone. The counselors joke around with us like other guys,” he said. Melissa Welbes, a counselor out of Billings, said she started coming to the camps because a childhood friend had muscular dystrophy. “He was like a brother to us,” she said. This is Welbes 12th camp. She said it is the campers who make the event special. “Knowing that these kids get a week of their life that is for them and all about them,” she said. “ This is the most incredible week of my life.” Heidi Morris, the camp director and a MDA healthcare services coordinator in Billings, said the events entertain the campers very well. “It’s awesome. It sure goes fast though. The camp started with counselor orientation last Wednesday, then the campers arrived Thursday. The campers were scheduled to depart at 8 a.m. this morning. A series of events including swimming, horseback riding, a special race at the Lohman Motor Sports Complex east of Havre, and a VIP carnival were scheduled for each day. Morse said one of the high points was when Havre firefighters brought out a fire engine to escort a group of Harley-Davidson Motorcycle riders to the camp. She said the campers were all at the lodge at Camp Kiwanis when the group arrived. “They hear the sirens and hear the Harleys and just stop, then run out to see. They just love it,” Morse said. She added that the local help with the camp is tremendous. The Havre firefighters have been helping set up, bringing out food, golf carts and an Arctic Cat among other things. Local businesses have donated the use of items, as well as setting up events, she said. Eight-year-old Jessica Beers of Missoula said this is her second time at the camp she will come back, she said. Beers said the best part of the camp is playing with her friends. She said she had a lot of fun doing things like playing tag, playing board games, playing in the sand and dancing at the Hollywood Nite dance Saturday. Beck also said one of the best things for him this year was making new friends, especially with the counselors. “They see I’m a real person,” he said. “Our counselors are kids just like us, it seems like.” He said that he usually has trouble making friends. “I was always like an orphan,” Beck said. He added that he will come back next year for the last time the cutoff age for attending the camp is 21. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said. Renkin also said the best part of camp is probably the people. He said the first day, with no electricity, was a little tough for him to get used to. But then, doing the different activities with the counselors and other campers, it was easy. “After the first day, you don’t even need video games,” he said.