Ondrej Ball and John Van Denburgh

Kids with special needs play and grow with Camp Fire

Parents with children with disabilities have trouble finding things for their kids to do during the summer. Some families in Bozeman, Mont., have noticed that the lack of structure during the summer can cause their children to regress in some areas. Other than Eagle Mount, which creates therapeutic recreation opportunities for people of all ages and disabilities, there are few programs that can accommodate their special needs and medical concerns. That search led a group of parents to form a Camp Fire group for kids with special needs. Their families met through the Bozeman Area Special Education Parent Teacher Association.

Ondrej Ball and John Van Denburgh

Camp Fire members Ondrej Ball (left) and John Van Denburgh are part of a growing group of kids who are enjoying friendship and the outdoors in Bozeman, Mont. Photo by Alyson Ball.

Camp Fire is one of the nation’s leading youth development organizations. With activities similar to scouting groups, Camp The Fire Tender program gives rural families a chance to participate in all that Camp Fire has to offer.

Fire gives both boys and girls the chance to meet goals and develop friendships.

Camp Fire is all-inclusive and works to recognize the dignity of each individual. Camp Fire offers all families, whatever form these families may take, life-enhancing experiences and opportunities to serve, play and grow together.

The group includes kids ages 7-10, but each family can work at their own level and pace. They intend to meet weekly during the summer and biweekly during the school year. If there is interest in forming a group for older or younger children, they are happy to help get that started.

Current members are Jackson, Ondrej and John. Jackson is a 7-year-old boy with autism and low muscle tone. He has a great imagination and lots of energy.

Ondrej is also 7 and has hypotonic cerebral palsy and is feeding-tube dependent. He is compassionate and a good friend to everyone. John is 9 and has spastic cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. He is enthusiastic and a hard worker. Even though these boys have different abilities, they enjoy one another’s company and each brings strengths to the group. The group has only boys now, but they are looking for girls and other boys.

Because there is not a local Camp Fire Council in the Bozeman area, each family is registered individually as a Fire Tender family and all work together as a Fire Tender council. The Fire Tender program gives rural families a chance to participate in all that Camp Fire has to offer.

The cost is $55 a year per family, regardless of size. This cost includes one program book, record book and a parents’ guide. In families with more than one child, additional books can be purchased separately.

These program books are available from preschool to high school level.

“We intend to start our group at the kindergarten level,” said Alyson Ball, one of the group’s founders. “The only additional cost is for a uniform.”

The uniform consists of a t-shirt and a vest. Kids earn beads and patches that can be sewn to their vests. Anyone interested can contact Alyson Ball at 406-582-8566 or kball977@hotmail.com.

“We hope to get local businesses and the community involved in sponsoring children who cannot pay their fees,” Ball said. 

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