A tradition of caring
By Pete Soyer
A tradition has been developing over the past three years at Camp Kiwanis in the Bear Paws, and this year is no different.
About 42 kids from around Montana and Northern Wyoming, ranging in age from 6 to 21, arrived Thursday for Muscular Dystrophy Association Camp. Along with the 42 campers, there are 42 counselors.
"Every camper has a one-on-one counselor," said camp director Eva Havens. "We have 10 counselors who used to be campers," she added.
"Lots of people stick to one child through the years. The return ratio is just outstanding," Havens said.
The campers develop wonderful friendships with the counselors and they keep in contact throughout the year, she said.
The MDA camp is made possible through many donations and volunteers, Havens said.
To help raise money for this year's camp, some Havre residents were put in a mock jail on the accusation of having a big heart. "We made more money this year than we have in any of the past years," Havens said.
The camp has a different theme every year and activities are based on the theme. Last year the theme was "Decades," said Havre firefighter and MDA volunteer Mike Anderson.
"For the '60s day we hung bed sheets from the lodge and had a drive-in movie. It was so popular with the kids that we got a canvas screen made and we are doing it again this year, even though it doesn't really fit with the theme," he said.
This year's theme is "Around the World in Six Days." Each day the campers will learn about a different culture from around the world. Foods, crafts and activities are planned to teach them about the different cultures every day, Havens said.
Today's theme is Oktoberfest, which will include ethnic foods and crafts.
Havens said Saturday is the Mexican fiesta. "A group from Billings is coming to make pinatas, teach dances and the language." Saturday is also VIP day at the camp, when people who have contributed are invited to come and join the festivities.
The campers will experience a Renaissance fair on Sunday. "The boys will be making swords and armor," Havens said, "and the girls will be making flower headbands and having tea."
The Chinese new year will be celebrated Monday with kids making Japanese origami and eating stir-fry, said Havens. The kids may go swimming Monday at one of the lakes if the weather stays nice.
The final day of camp will be a festival of nations. Tuesday will be full of sports and family. Olympic-style events are held throughout the week and Tuesday is when all the events wind up. All the families of the campers and counselors are invited to dinner
Buses head out Wednesday morning.
Five years ago at the campground, "nothing was handicap-accessible at all, not showers or toilets," Anderson said. The improvements done over the past four years have helped everyone, Havens said. The improvements not only help the MDA campers, but they help everyone who uses Kiwanis Camp, she said.
"The improvements have made it a perfect camp," she said.
"The next big improvement is a big sidewalk that will run to each cabin," Anderson said. The cement will be poured next spring. A grant of $35,000 has been awarded for the sidewalks, Anderson said.
Everyone who works at the camp is a volunteer, Havens said.
"The firemen from Butte are doing all the cooking this year and no one is paid for their services. The firemen are really involved. They take on lots of heavy care," Havens said. Firefighters from Havre and other locations help the kids get in and out of bed, get bathed, and help them compete in their sports.
"If it wasn't for the help of the firemen, lots of kids with special needs wouldn't be able to come to camp," Havens said.
As the fourth MDA Summer Camp rolls on, the tradition of caring volunteers, counselors and campers continues.
Anyone can volunteer to be a counselor or to just help out with the camp by calling 1-800-360-7160.