By Alan Sorensen
About 40 very special youngsters from throughout Montana and parts of Wyoming plan to enjoy the outdoors at Kiwanis Camp in Beaver Creek Park again this June.
Most of the campers will be brought to the Bear Paw Mountains south of Havre via bus for the fourth annual Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) Camp. Others will be delivered by parents, family or friends. All will enjoy a week of activities stretching from a Thursday to the following Wednesday.
The camp has undergone numerous improvements through efforts of area volunteers and donations from area businesses, clubs and individuals. But it will be a year before the campers will be able to appreciate the latest project to get funded sidewalks throughout the upper campsite to help the kids get around better. They are something organizers seriously intend to get done before camp next year.
Capt. Mike Anderson of the Havre Fire Department said volunteers had wanted to install a sidewalk that would loop around the cabin area and back to the main lodge last spring. "The area is covered in grass and this makes it difficult for the youth to get around the cabin area," he said.
That work is possible now because of recent grants awarded to the project.
"We're getting a CTEP from (Hill County)," said Firefighter Al Forsman. "It's $30,000, and we have to come up with 13 percent of that. We got that from the Ronald McDonald House Charity and that was about $4,026."
Forsman said the project will result in sidewalks and handicap ramps into all of the cabins used by the MDA campers.
"It will be a lot more accessible for the wheelchairs," Forsman said. "And that sidewalk will got to the lower lodge, too, and the bathroom/shower facilities. It will make it a lot easier for people walking, too."
Forsman said the 3-year project will probably begin this summer with the engineering study and work could start the spring of 2002. Actual construction should take two weeks, he said.
Craig Erickson with Bear Paw Development Corporation handled most of the paperwork for the project. Forsman said Erickson expected to get the CTEP paperwork back from the Montana Department of Transportation in late February or early March. Erickson would then do the environmental assessment. The design phase, about 90 days, would follow, Forsman said. The bid phase could begin this fall.
With construction next spring, the sidewalks could be in place when the MDA kids arrive for the 2002 camp.
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. Other volunteers help with the meals and other everyday camp operations.
MDA camper Eric Sale wrote the following poem during last summer's camp:
You're not my hero, because you're faster than a speeding bullet.
You're not my hero, because you can score a hundred points in a game.
You're not my hero, because you're the richest person in the world.
You're not my hero, because your face is always on TV.
You're not my hero, because you can lift a ton.
You're my hero, because you're never far away when I need a friend.
You're my hero, because you're always willing to sacrifice everything to make life better.
You're my hero, because no matter what you have you're willing to share it with me.
You're my hero, because you always have a way of bringing a smile to my face.
You're my hero, because you lift me up when I'm feeling down.
You're my hero, because you love.
"The camp is one week that these kids get to be kids," said Anderson, president of the Montana Firemen's Association and one of those instrumental in convincing MDA to bring the camp to Hill County.
The theme for this year's camp, slated for June 20-27, is Festival of Nations. Each day will be a celebration of a different country.
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 last year 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 last 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 during the years.
Triangle Telephone Company donated two phone lines 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, provided 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 last year, three were 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 last year that money for the camp is tight, but that kids come regardless. "It costs around $500 per summer to send a kid to summer camp."
Several firefighters from throughout Montana, including Al Forsman of Havre, took a week off of work last summer so they could help out at the camp as personal counselors. Some Montana firefighters have been donating their summer vacation time to the camp for years.
Firefighters also contribute time and energy to their annual fund-raisers for MDA, the Fill-The-Boot campaign. Last year, Montana firefighters raised $96,612 for Jerry's Kids. The Havre bunch brought in $3,400 during their one-day effort on Fifth Avenue.
Liz Kampa, MDA district director from Billings, and Eva Havens, program service coordinator for the state of Montana MDA, also of Billings, provide guidance and stability to the camp.
"The Billings number is 1-800-360-7160 if they would like to volunteer to be a counselor," Forsman said. "We're always looking for counselors."