By Suzanne Wilson
Photographs by Vince Heptig
Troop 999's annual camporee for special-needs campers means new activities and experiences for the guests and a new awareness for Scouts.
Matt Martinez and camper Stephen Marrs share a laugh during a break in the camporee activities.
"We've been talking about Special Camporee for a month," says Stephanie McCollum, as she and her daughter Whitney walk up the trail this September morning toward a day of fun.
Whitney wears the necklace she completed at registration. With dies and mallet, she stamped "Whit" on its leather totem, then added a bead, the first of many she'll collect at activities today.
"This, along with the Special Olympics, is the highlight of her life," says her mother. "This is the coolest thing, and the boys are great."
She's talking about the Boy Scouts of Troop 999, chartered to Elks Lodge 2673 in Broken Arrow, Okla., in the Tulsa-based Indian Nations Council. When the Scouts plan their annual troop calendar of activities, the Special Camporee is at the top of their list, too.
A day for buddies
Camper Jesse Ellett and Mike Bruck enjoy a soaking while playing a game of sprinkler soccer.
This is the sixth time the troop has hosted the event for campers with a wide range of special needs and disabilities. Every young person attends with a parent, an entire family, or a caregiver. Siblings are included in all activities.
Each special camper spends the day with a Scout buddy. "You get a different personand a different personalityevery time," says Scout Ben White.
While Scouts focus on helping their guests to get the most out of the day, adults staff the activities.
Margaret O'Daniel, president of Broken Arrow's Special Education Parent Association and mother of camper Nathan, says the event gives campers a chance at activities they'd never do otherwise, and "it makes the Scouts more aware."
That's what camporee founders wanted. "It really opened the eyes of the boys in the troop regarding special education people," says assistant Scoutmaster Harold Tackett. "It makes them more comfortable around them, they have fun with them, they try to understand them."
Red, Blue, Green, Yellow
Scouts Ryan Grimm and Danny Reyburn back up Brian Wise, center, as he aims a kick at the goal in a sprinkler soccer match.
When first-time camper Amber McDaniel arrives at Camp Russell, she announces to her family, "This is my day!"
She's right. This is the day she'll shoot a BB gun, paddle a canoe, play sprinkler soccer, dance the Chicken Dance, meet new friends.
The troop's regular patrols are replaced today by new groups designated Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow, each with an adult adviser. Amber and her Scout buddy, Mitch Neely, 13, join the Yellow Patrol.
"Everybody, this is Mike," says Scout Matt Hoffman as he pushes Mike Guynes's wheelchair to meet the rest of the Yellow Patrol. Mike shakes hands with Nathan O'Daniel, also in a wheelchair and a Scout himself, from Troop 935. As more campers arrive, everyone's name is added to the patrol flag.
Each Scout and his guest participate in many
Nathan O'Daniel and Scout Brian Ring buddy-up to make a beadie baby lizard at the craft pavilion. Nathan has attended several of the Special Camporees and is one of the Scouts' favorite guests.
Campers eagerly anticipate each activity. "Hey, where are we going now?" Amber asks, as Brett Boland, carrying the flag, leads the Yellow Patrol toward its next destinationthe archery range.
There, Nathan's mom and Brian surround Nathan, position the bow, place his hands, and the three of them let the arrow fly at the target. Applause and cheers break out along the line.
The pace is easy, but there are no lulls. "It keeps you moving," says Alice Vernon, mother of Nita. "I'm overwhelmed with the work they put into it. All the Scouts are just super kids."
Josh Silva pushes the wheelchair of Robby Floyd over challenging terrain. Blue Patrol adviser Susan Spooner notes Josh's patience and the physical effort it takes to maneuver an adult's wheelchair.
On regular monthly camp-outs, Spooner says, the Scouts get their work done, then "get a little rowdy at times." This is different. "They're very focused; they know what their job is today."
"There's no way you can describe the feeling you get from this," says Josh. "It makes both you and the special-needs kids feel so great."
Dancing the Chicken Dance
After lunch, Art McKenzie, a troop committee member, and the Sweat Band play the "Chicken Dance," which gradually draws people into the finger-snapping, elbow-flapping action. Then dancers improvise steps to a polka, and soon the floor is crowded.
Green Patrol adviser Monique Silva holds Robby's hands and dances with him as her son Josh pushes and turns Robby's wheelchair. Anna Grubb, who hesitated to join the dancers at first, helps form an arch for Nathan's chair to go through. Tim Warner leads a dancing chain around the pavilion.
Melode Warner, Tim's mother, says: "Tim really likes the Special
Colt Golden (with paddle) avoids a collision as Troop 999 Scouts and leaders take campers canoeing.
In the afternoon at the obstacle course, Scouts hold hurdles up so Robby's wheelchair can go under. "They're giving us a hand, aren't they?" Robby comments.
At the lake, the staff has lashed pairs of canoes together for greater stability.
Even so, Nick Tackett seems nervous. "Hold on with both hands and sit real still. Have fun!" advises assistant Scoutmaster Russ Grimm. Soon, Nick relaxes and trails his hand in the water.
When Grimm asks if Nick is ready to come ashore, he replies, "No!"
Camporee co-chairman Steve Rose says it's easy to tell how much campers enjoy completing a challenging activity. "You can just read it in their faces, that they've accomplished something."
Everyone's sense of silliness emerges at
A parachute "popcorn machine" tosses colorful balls into the air.
They play with a multicolored parachute, floating it upward, running under it, then creating a "popcorn machine" by tossing colorful balls on it.
Holding hands, they pass a hoop around the circle by climbing through it. Then two go through the hoop together, then four, laughing. It's goofy and fun.
It's hot, but everyone wants to play soccer with a giant red ball. Players who make goals are rewarded with fountain-like sprinkler soakings.
After dinner, there's free
Scouts Ryan Murray and Stephen Kreidler participate in a flag ceremony with camper Brett Boland.
"It was great," says Mary McDaniel, Amber's mother. "I met new friends and neat kids, got lots of hugs."
The day will not soon be forgotten. Mark Grubb, Anna's father, predicts she'll wear her totem necklace for two weeks. And each camper has a photo taken with his or her Scout buddy.
When they see each other again in town, Scouts say, there will be greetings and hugs and the inevitable question from a camper: "Remember me?"
And the answer is always, "Of course!"
For camper guests and Scout hosts alike, the Special Camporee experience is one not likely to be forgotten.
Contributing editor Suzanne Wilson lives in Joplin, Mo.
'A Place in Our Hearts'
Scoutmaster Gary Schoenhals and assistant Scoutmaster Harold Tackett explain how their ideas took shape after they helped with another troop's special camporee.
Since both men had special-needs children, says Tackett, "We had a place in our hearts to start our own." (Schoenhals's son Tracy is not able to attend the event, but Tackett's son Nick participates.)
When they took their idea to Scouts and leaders, "They all jumped right on it," says Schoenhals.
An Eagle Scout project
The first camporee program was the Eagle Scout project for Schoenhals's son Trent, then 16. "We based it on a Cub Scout activity," Trent says, "things we knew they would enjoy and all the handicapped kids could do. There's a couple of events a few can't do, but we always have something else for them."
One difference in Troop 999's event was the inclusion of younger campers, with a lower limit of age 11. Many campers are teen-aged, and several are in their 20s, 30s, and older. At the 1998 camporee, the oldest campers were enthusiastic twin brothers, Al and Ted Herman, 67.
The number of campers grew from 15 the first year to 35 in its sixth year.
Previous campers receive invitations; others hear about the event through friends, the Special Education Parent Association, and local agencies. Since each camper has a Scout buddy, attendance is limited by the number of Scouts available. But with campers' parents, siblings, and caregivers, the guest list often tops 100.
Of all Troop 999 events, the annual Special Camporee draws the widest participation from Scouts, leaders, and Scout parents. Sometimes Scouts from other troops come to be buddies. The adult staff reaches about 50, with most doing several jobs. In 1998, camporee leadership was split for the first time, between co-chairmen Steve Rose and Rod Murray. Planning starts a year ahead.
Scouts' service counts toward the Disability Awareness merit badge, which all members of Troop 999 are encouraged to earn.
Now 21, Trent Schoenhals still helps with the camporee, along with other former troop members, and most campers are returnees, too. "They come back," he says, "so we know we're doing a good job."
Preparing Scouts to Be Special 'Buddies' for a Day
Noel Runyan, 11, was about to be a Scout buddy at his first Special Camporee, and he'd already heard about it in troop meetings.
"It's going to be good for the special campers and the Scouts," he said. "They told us they're not as different from us as we think they are.
"They told us to be patient with them. Some of them have disabilities that are worse than others. They prepared us for just about anything."
Friday night, Scouts and leaders talked again. Event co-chairman Steve Rose told the Scouts: "The activity is more for the special campers than for you guys.
"Keep the fishing rod in the special camper's hand. Make sure the special camper is having the fun."
Troop committee chairman Larry Bahler added: "You've got one of the biggest jobs you'll have in a long, long time. Tomorrow is the day you give [of] yourself to somebody else."
"We grow; they grow as well," co-chairman Rod Murray told the Scouts.
Matt Martinez, 16, recalled his first Special Camporee. "I didn't know if they'd want to be my buddy or not. Don't worry; they'll come and get you."
"After you do it once, you're hooked," Rose said. "It's an activity you'll love forever."
November-December 1999 Table of Contents
Copyright © 1999 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.
|The Boy Scouts of America||http://www.scouting.org|