Hill AFB program helps families with special needs

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Ami Trickey moved to Hill Air Force Base in April with her family, including her 5-year-old son who was born prematurely and as a result has chronic lung issues requiring the continual use of oxygen. 

They have been stationed at three bases since his birth, and Trickey admits it’s hard to readjust at each location and determine what services are available for her son. 

However, the transition at Hill AFB has been smooth because of the Exceptional Family Member Program, which offers support and resources for active-duty servicemembers and their families with any type of special needs or serious medical conditions. 

“We kind of live in a bubble and stay on the safe side, but with this program, it has gotten us out of that bubble because there have been people to help us,” Trickey said. 

One of the programs hosted by the EFMP was a Mini Adventure Day sponsored by Camp Kostopulos Dream Foundation, located up Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City. Several Hill AFB special-needs families were invited to spend a day there recently, participating in several outdoor experiences. 

“I’ve always been kind of hesitant because I didn’t know if my son could go horseback riding, fishing or swimming, but the program assured me he would be taken care of and I was pleasantly surprised because he was able to do everything,” said Trickey, who admits being worried about how her son, because of his oxygen tank, could ride a horse. 

The camp had thought of everything, though, providing a camp counselor to support her son from one side of the horse while Trickey walked on the other side holding her son’s oxygen. 

Her son was on cloud nine after riding the horse, catching a fish and playing on the playground. “He isn’t able to do a lot of stuff without a lot of extra hands, and when his dad is on TDY for three months at a time and it’s just me, we don’t go out a lot,” Trickey said. 

“This camp was the perfect place because they made us feel right at home. It’s kind of a wake-up call because maybe I’m holding him back. They are able to do more things than I thought possible, and this camp has opened my eyes to what he is capable of doing without so much help from me all the time. I can feel more confident now about taking him out to do other things.”

Those sentiments are what EFMP Family Support Coordinator Tammy Custer often hears from families in the program. 

“Sometimes, parents or siblings think the child with disabilities can’t do anything, so this is really an opportunity for them to see just exactly what it is they can do, especially since they have a lot of ways to accommodate kids with disabilities,” Custer said. 

For instance, on the ropes course, helpers can hoist a child up in a special seat to enjoy the experience just like everyone else. “Families then get to see their kids get really excited and come away with a sense of accomplishment that is absolutely amazing for the whole family,” Custer said. 

Dawn Pratt, of Ogden, attended the adventure camp with her four children. Two of her children have dyslexia and one has PDD-NOS, a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. 

“We enjoyed going there because there was so much for the kids to do and they didn’t have to stress about anything,” Pratt said. “It seems like there is a lot of pressure on these kids to not be themselves, and when you are on the (autism) spectrum, that really adds stress, but you don’t feel that type of stress when you are at Camp Kostopulos.”

Having the opportunity to help families attend adventure programs such as Camp Kostopulos and help families find the right resources is why Custer is such a supporter of the program. Her husband was on active duty for 26 years while Custer raised their children, two of whom had special needs. 

“I spent a lot of my time searching out resources when we would move because the program wasn’t really up-to-date back then. It wasn’t always easy to find those resources, which is why I want to help other families now,” Custer said. 

Mircea Divricean, president and CEO of Camp Kostopulos Dream Foundation, says opening up the camp for military families is one way the foundation can help military families take time for themselves, especially those affected by disabilities.

“When you are in the service, committed to working hard, and have disabilities in the family, it can complicate things so much,” Divricean  said. “Our goal is to provide amazing services that help boost self-esteem and confidence and show people they can be individuals away from their environment at places like Camp Kostopulos.”

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