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Blackford Camp Pairs Kids with Ball State University Students



HARTFORD CITY -- His silver cowboy belt buckle peeking from under an untucked purple T-shirt, 20-year-old Shaun Jenkins stood before three kids on horseback as he called out orders for a game of "Red Light/Green Light" inside a horse arena Tuesday morning.

The middle horse rider, Daniel Anderson, 9, stopped Strutty, the brown quarter horse under him, with a command that sounded less like a directive and more like he had just unlocked a chest of gold doubloons.

"Whoaaaaaaw," Anderson said.

Anderson''s first time in a saddle and stirrups was months in the planning and an example of how a small community with limited resources can overcome a challenge through creative partnering. Anderson, a Northside Elementary School student, was one of 18 registered campers at the inaugural High Riding Art and Equestrian Camp at the McCammon Farm northeast of Hartford City this week.

The day camp focuses on children between third grade and high school who have mild special needs. It is the first of its kind for Blackford County. Previously, the only option for parents in Blackford County was to send their kids to Camp Isanogel in Delaware County. But with travel and expenses, few parents could afford it, according to Pattie Poulson, interim director of the Blackford County Community Foundation, which spearheaded the local effort.

"Maybe one (kid), maybe two every year, max," Poulson said.

In contrast, this week''s High Riding Art and Equestrian Camp was free to campers.

Pulling off the day camp would have been impossible for the Blackford County Community Foundation to do on its own, even with significant contributions from Blackford County philanthropists Jane Maddox and Carol Fry Young. So Poulson drafted Ruth Jones, an assistant professor of special education at Ball State University, to help. A former administrator in Blackford County Schools, Jones secured a $14,900 BSU Provost Immersive Learning Grant.

BSU recognized an opportunity for college students under Jones'' direction to get first-hand experience working with children who need a little more attention.

Jones recruited students such as Jenkins who were experienced with horses, and others who knew dance, art and physical education. They''ll earn three credit hours for helping plan the day camp and providing instruction to campers on everything from horse grooming to throwing a football.

"Experience is the best teacher," Jenkins said.

Along with the funds from Ball State, the foundation received volunteer labor from food service workers from the school district, and the Mackey and McCammon family donated use of its farm, with a 7,800-square-foot riding arena, for the camp.

Oak Hill Farm in Roanoke, Ind., a therapeutic horseback riding facility, provided the horses.

While the Ball State students were learning valuable teaching skills, the young campers were learning life skills about responsibility, creativity and working in groups and independently.

Looking out on the arena floor as her students walked in step with three horses, Jones said she was hopeful that the project would carry on next year.

"It''s better than I ever dreamed," she said.

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