Opportunities for More Abilities

Billings Mom launches camps for kids with special needs

Evin Ziegler may only be 5 years old, but she’s got a mind of her own. She’s spunky, smart, independent and strong-willed. A cancer survivor with Down syndrome, she’s a come-from-behind fighter and a force to be reckoned with.

“She definitely beats to her own drum and is going to do what she wants to do,” says her mother, Caitlin.

When the opportunity came for Evin to participate in a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) All-Abilities Camp last June, Caitlin knew it would be a perfect fit for Evin, and she and her other two children, ages 9 and 11, signed up to volunteer for the two-day camp in Lockwood.

Evin was one of 20 children in the camp. They ranged in age from 2 to 17, and all had special needs of some kind. Some were physical, others were neuro-divergent, and the group as a whole represented a wide variety of ability levels. One-on-one volunteers helped each camper achieve their best performance with lots of encouragement and fun along the way. The camp received support from Fellowship Baptist Church.

As each child entered the gym, their name was announced over the PA system, and they ran through a line of volunteers for high-fives. Caitlin’s eyes welled with tears as Evin zoomed through the line. 

“Evin loved it,” she says. “She ran around, and just ran and ran. She had fun all day.” 

Evin was, in part, the inspiration behind the FCA All-Abilities Camp, which was coordinated by Jenny Dow, a family friend of the Zieglers. Jenny is the FCA director for eight counties in the Billings area.

FCA is a nonprofit sports ministry that is a bridge between faith and sports. It gives athletes of all ages the opportunity to compete and have fellowship with other Christian athletes.

“With everything, I see Evin and think, what opportunities do I want to be sure are afforded to her?” Jenny says. “I want to be sure she gets to play sports and know that God loves her and she is perfectly made.”

The seed had been planted, the kids were registered, funding was there, and the volunteer support came through, but as June approached last year, Jenny wasn’t sure what to expect.

“The goal was to tailor a camp, so these kids have the very best experience,” Jenny says. “My heart said yes, but I thought that if I say yes, would we really be able to do that to any scale?”

Not being a part of the special-needs parent community made the challenge of getting the word out difficult for Jenny, so she connected with local occupational therapists and had a table at the neurodiversity fair. She also had to recruit volunteers to meet the special needs of each child, including a sign language interpreter for a hearing-impaired boy. Some children needed more than one coach/volunteer.

As it turned out, the camp was a huge success, perhaps in part because children with disabilities are often overlooked in extracurricular activities, and when they do make it onto a team or into a club, they’re usually all alone, the only child on the team with a disability. At the All-Abilities Camp, children participated in baseball, football, soccer, basketball and an obstacle course. 

“It feels good as a special-needs family to be thought of. That doesn’t always happen, so it feels good to be able to have this experience as a family,” Caitlin says. 

Caitlin and her family are already looking forward to the next All-Abilities Camp in late June.

“Our goal with the All-Abilities Program is that it will become a year-round program,” Jenny says.

Prior to the All-Abilities Camp, FCA hosted a traditional sports camp for 435 kids and offered seven sports experiences. All-abilities camps are a pillar of the organization’s offerings, which also include sports leagues, campus groups called Huddles, and outdoor and action sports fellowship opportunities.

“Anywhere there is a coach with an interest we would invest to empower that coach to lead,” Jenny says.

Jenny was an enthusiastic high school athlete and played multiple sports, including golf, basketball, softball and ski racing, but she excelled in soccer and went on to play for the University of Montana Grizzlies. She knows the pressures that athletes face, and the difference Christian fellowship can make. 

As a mother of two, she also knows how intense and competitive youth sports have become — even before kids reach high school. As an FCA director she’s hoping to disrupt that trend by making sports accessible to all children regardless of ability. She wants to put “play” back into sports and make them fun for everyone.

“There’s a different way to do it,” Jenny says, “and that’s to make more opportunities for more abilities.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Montana Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and its offerings, go to montanafca.org


Sign up for the All-Abilities Camp

The FCA All-Abilities Camp is scheduled for June 23-24 in Lockwood. Registration deadline is June 1. Volunteers are needed to make the camp a success. For more information and to register, go to montanafca.org/yellowstone.


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