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Missouri National Guardsmen go to bat for disabled children at Camp Guardian

WILDWOOD, Mo -- A partnership between the Missouri National Guard and a summer camp for disabled children resulted in plenty of smiles this week at Edmond A. Babler State Park in Wildwood.

Since 1977 Camp Guardian has provided a free summer camp for children with physical and intellectual disabilities. This year's camp, which concluded on Friday, treated more than 60 kids from across Missouri to six days of activities including swimming, fishing, archery and the traditional Camp Guardian Ball, which took place Thursday night.

Many of Camp Guardian's volunteer coordinators and counselors are members of the Missouri National Guard. Some of the campers are from Guard families and Guardsmen even sit on the organization's board of directors.

This year's camp director was Missouri Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Brandon Long, of Warrensburg, a technician with the 131st Bomb Wing, based at Whiteman Air Force Base. Long started volunteering for the camp four years ago at the urging of his wife and father-in-law.

"You are never going to meet a better group of kids," Long said. "We have a lot of children from group homes whose families cannot afford to send them to camp. And to know that you are helping make a child's summer is a feeling I cannot describe."

"This is a wonderful experience," added Air Guard 1st Lt. Robert Lovelady, of St. Joseph, who serves with the 139th Airlift Wing, based in St. Joe. "For a lot of our campers this is their summer vacation and it costs their families absolutely nothing."

The National Guard partnership with Camp Guardian spans some 36 years.

"At least 75 percent of the work that is done for the camp is done by currently serving or retired National Guardsmen," Long said. "We have Air Guardsmen and Army Guardsmen from all over the state involved. That being said, I'd love to have more Guardsmen involved because this is such a great organization."

Enjoying an afternoon of fishing nearby was Herby Ivy, 56, of Linn, who has been coming to the camp for 28 consecutive years.

"I started out as a camper and now I'm a camp volunteer," Ivy said proudly. "I look forward to it every summer."

If there is any unfortunate aspect to Camp Guardian it is that the organization receives far more camper applications than it has openings. Ideally, organizers would like to accommodate every applicant.

"Our budget for each camp is about $20, 000," Long said. "We spend between $400 and $500 per camper, but that's all we can afford."

For the camper's safety, cabins are an absolute must and the camp keeps a nurse on-site around the clock.

Over the years, Camp Guardian has chosen various locations for its summer camp, but hopes to build a camp of their own at Lake of the Ozarks some day.

"We have purchased some property down there and hope to build cabins, a gymnasium, a dining hall and other facilities," Long said. "Ideally the camp would be self-sufficient and we would rent it out to other camp organizations."

For more information about Camp Guardian visit the organization's web site at, Campguardian.org.