Operation Shine Camp - Sponsors
We are proud to announce the sponsors for the 2016 Operation Shine Camp. We truly appreciate the generosity of these Organizations and Individuals. With the help of these sponsors we are able to provide an opportunity to experience the fun of a summer camp for kids that traditionally wouldn't be able to attend. As we reflect on this opportunity we are so thankful and hope that you will show your appreciation for them by frequenting there business.
Camp gives special needs kids a chance to shine, explore
by Kurt Johnson - Aurora News Register, Aurora, NE
Youngsters arriving for Camp Operation Shine were treated like rock stars Friday and the looks on their faces reflected the special weekend that lie ahead.
More than 35 youths diagnosed with autism or related conditions, including Down Syndrome, were greeted by a parade of cheers, banners and waving hands as they drove into Covenant Cedars Bible Camp north of Hordville. It was all part of coordinator Aaron Bly’s well-orchestrated plan, as well as the mission of the Kids and Dreams Foundation which he established 2-1/2 years ago.
“Our goal for the camp is for the kids to have fun, to keep them safe and to provide a weekend for the parents to have a little break,” Bly explained as the activities began. “We try to do as many different things as we can that a lot of these kids don’t normally get to do.”
As the father of a 10-year-old son diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Bly understands all too well the physical and mental challenges related to autism. A banker by trade, Bly created a foundation in hopes of providing support to children of all ages and their families dealing with autism, bullying and other challenges faced by today’s children.
“We seek to enrich the lives of the kids by locating and providing the resources that will help each reach their full potential in life,” Bly explained. “That’s what this camp is all about.”
After a successful though somewhat hurriedly planned debut Operation Shine camp last year, Bly said he was encouraged to see growth and support for this year’s event. A year ago, 24 campers spent the weekend at Covenant Cedars with some 60 volunteers. This year, 35 campers from Ogallala to Omaha showed up with more than 100 volunteers there to make sure they had a safe and memorable experience.
“Our goal is to keep them safe here,” Bly noted. “We have two volunteers for every camper, plus an activities team, three nurses, sensory rooms and a couple of therapists. We’ve done as much as possible to make sure if they get overstimulated they have a place to go.”
Getting excited is easy to do at Covenant Cedars, with the list of activities including swimming, zip lining, crate stacking, rock climbing, bounce houses and archery. Friday was “Dream Night,” inviting kids to dress up for what they want to be when they grow up, followed by Western Night on Saturday, complete with horseback riding.
“I think this environment brings them out because they don’t experience this very often,” said Kaylee Eberle, a senior from Central City High School back for a second year as a camp volunteer. “With autism you are constricted a lot and people try to contain you, but here at this camp they can be whoever they want to be.”
Eberle said she signed up as quickly as she could upon learning about the camp, knowing that she hopes to one day pursue a career in special education.
“What is so cool about this camp is they are not going to try to confine the kids and make them do certain things,” Eberle observed. “The girl I’m with likes swinging, so we can go swing as long as she wants. They give them a wide variety of things to do and they just get to be themselves for the whole weekend. We tried every swing in this entire park last year and by the end she was walking around more and you could see she was more excited about being here.”
Youth volunteer Chase Hurdle was back for a second year as well and was looking forward to spending the weekend with the same camper and adult volunteer as last year.
“It’s just so much fun,” said Hurdle, a sophomore in college from McCook who is studying to become a physical therapist. “It’s crazy how much they come out of their shell. In training, they were telling us things that are typical, but I just saw so much that they didn’t talk about. We pretty much just did whatever my camper wanted to do and he thought that was pretty cool.”
Jennifer Liljehorn of Kearney admitted that she was a bit anxious as she dropped her son off Friday. Isaac was diagnosed just a year ago with autism and thus Operation Shine represented the first time he’s been away from home, alone.
“It looked like a lot of fun and a great opportunity to meet some new people and just kind of get outside the bubble he lives in at home,” she said. “He’s a little nervous and I’m a little nervous, but I think it will go well.”
It did go well, in fact, with Isaac setting a new camp record for crate stacking at 28.
Dawn Rutt admitted that she too was stressed by the thought of leaving her son for the weekend.
“It’s a little bit stressful, but we’re excited about all the fun things they can do,” she said. “There is a great staff here to help them if they have any issues.”
Bly said the goal of Operation Shine is to not only let campers spread their wings a bit and experience new things, but hopefully to instill a new sense of confidence once they return home.
“The parents’ feedback after last year’s camp was incredible,” said Bly, who lives near Kenesaw. “Kids who never went and played with their neighbors had the confidence after coming to camp to go out and play with their neighbors. This camp is hopefully building up their self-esteem and showing them you can do these things, even though people may tell you you have special needs and you can’t do it. We are showing them you can always strive to do something better.”
As for the venue, Bly said Covenant Cedars provides the perfect environment for Operation Shine.
“They do a great job here,” he said. “I got to know Dan (Buhr, executive director) and Covenant Cedars through our own personal situation and I knew once we started to talk about a camp he would be the first person I would call for the Kids and Dreams Foundation. The set-up here is top-notch and what the kids can do here you really can’t match anywhere else.”
Resting at home on Monday after an emotional weekend, Bly said the second year for Operation Shine went even better than the first.
“I told the volunteers before camp that this will be one of the most exhausting weekends, but also one of the most life-changing days they have as well,” he said. “That held true this weekend.”
During the finale on Sunday, kids enjoyed a special “drive-in movie” with their parents, sitting in cars made out of cardboard boxes which they helped create. The movie was a 15-minute video filled with highlights from the previous two days of camp activities.
“It was just a great way for the parents to see what all their kids were able to do,” Bly said. “We saw kids opening up and getting on horses or climbing the rock wall that you never would have thought would do that. Their faces lit up with huge smiles.
“All those little things make all the time that is put in worthwhile,” he concluded.
A listing of our sponsors (in no specific order):
1. HEARTLAND BANK
2. OLSSON ASSOCIATES
3. BARNEY FINANCIAL
4. BARNEY INSURANCE
5. IDEAL TITLE LLC
6. MARCUS & THERESA NEEDHAM AND MATCHING DONATION FROM JOHN DEERE
7. PINNACLE BANK
8. FIRSTIER BANK
9. KEARNEY AREA COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
10. JOAN SCHWAN COUNSELING
11. GRAND ISLAND MENTAL HEALTH
12. NATURAL FOODS
13. YOUNES HOSPITALITY
14. FIRST ST. PAUL'S LUTHERAN CHURCH HASTINGS