By Alan Sorensen
About 40 very special youngsters from throughout Montana and parts of Wyoming plan to enjoy the great outdoors at Kiwanis Camp in Beaver Creek Park this week.
A bus carrying most of the campers arrived Thursday evening for the beginning of the third annual Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) Camp in the Bear Paw Mountains south of Havre.
What makes these kids special is that they all suffer from one of a variety of neuromuscular diseases. But with the help of their personal counselors who accompany the campers nearly everywhere they go, the campers can enjoy a nearly carefree week.
"The camp is one week that these kids get to do something," Capt. Mike Anderson of the Havre Fire Department said.
The theme for this year's camp, which runs through next Wednesday, is "Wheelin' Through the Years." Events, activities and workshops throughout the week will focus on past decades, from the 1940s through the '60s.
Since Havre Firefighters Local # 601 first won a bid to bring the camp to Hill County, Kiwanis Camp has undergone numerous changes. Now nearly 100 percent handicap accessible, the camp underwent a few last minute improvements that included an additional handicap shower in the boys bathroom. The shower was made possible by a $1,000 donation from the Soroptimists of Havre.
Another improvement this year was the installation of a power latch on the main door of Beaver Lodge that makes access much easier for everyone.
Each of the campers has his or her own personal camp counselor who is responsible for making the camper's stay fun and enjoyable. Many of the campers are confined to wheel chairs, while others require the use of crutches and others can get around fairly well on their own.
The MDA Camp provides a wide range of activities for the young people who are affected by neuromuscular disease. Activities are geared to the abilities of the campers and may include fishing, swimming, horseback riding, boating, field hockey and softball. Less physically demanding activities include arts and crafts, talent shows, nature study, cookouts and entertainment.
Numerous people and businesses from the local community and around the state have pitched in to help provide activities for the young campers.
Triangle Telephone Company who has donated two phone line so the kids can connect online, with computers, to the Internet. Ten canoes for the camp were donated by Jim Meade of Great Falls. The canoes are used to take the kids for rides on Bears Paw Lake.
Jim Leeds and Cathy Wood, local ranchers from Havre, donated some horses for the kids to ride on.
The community has been very supportive of the MDA summer camp and out of the 15 firefighter camp volunteers state-wide, three are from Havre.
The entire week is a fun-filled experience for the kids, Anderson said. "Life is a struggle for these kids. This is one week that they can all come together; the one week of the year they can be normal."
The camp had previously been held at Seeley Lake.
"We wanted to bring the camp to the Havre area," Anderson said, "but we had to make the camp accessible for the handicapped.
"We have installed ramps from the main lodge to the top of the hill by the cabins. We have also cemented the areas in front of the cabins to make it easier for the kids to move around, and we have installed handicapped shower and toilet access."
Anderson said volunteers had wanted to install a sidewalk that would loop around the cabin area and back to the main lodge this spring. "At this time, the area is covered in grass and this makes it difficult for the youth to get around the cabin area," he said
Anderson said that money for the camp is tight, but that kids come regardless. "It cost around $500 per summer to send a kid to summer camp."
Several firefighters from throughout Montana, including Al Forsman of Havre, are taking a week off of work so they can help out at the camp as personal counselors. Some Montana firefighters have been donating their summer vacation time to the camp for years.