AP NEWS

Bears go home with Camp Scott kids

April 9, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF — An unsuccessful business promotion has been repurposed to bring happiness to a large group of special needs children as Camp Scott campers visited Riverside Discovery Center for a special Saturday outing.

The idea started with Gene Batt of Western Plains Business Solutions. He’d purchased 60 large teddy bears, which ended taking up space in his building after the promotion didn’t get off the ground.

So on Saturday, a trailer rolled into the zoo parking lot carrying a “live teddy bear” caution sign. Early that afternoon, the bears would go home with the children who had come for an outing at the zoo.

Batt explained that in the 1990s, he was on the United Way of Western Nebraska board. He was assigned to review Camp Scott’s sponsorship application. He’s been familiar with their work since then.

“I knew they were a great organization and I had some extra bears, so I thought why not,” Batt said. “I’d originally donated some of the bears to help the zoo raise funds for its bear exhibit.”

Camp Scott’s legal name is Summer Program for Handicapped Children Inc. but goes by Camp Scott. Reenie Berry is its board president.

“We’ve been around 40 years,” she said. “We offer a five-week day camp for special needs children ages 7-21. “We don’t have a lot of academics, but make it a fun-filled experience for the kids.”

Some of the activities include the summer reading program, matinee movies at the Midwest Theater, swimming at local pools, field trips, visits to the Riverside Discovery Center, fishing, guest speakers and more.

Some of the older campers also learn pre-employment skills by helping with the program. “The older kids love that responsibility,” Berry said. “They do a really good job for us.”

Camp Scott registers a maximum of 40 campers each summer and the program is usually full.

“We never turn anyone away if they can’t pay,” Berry said. “We get scholarships from different foundations and organizations to help us.”

This year is the first time for what Zoo Director Anthony Mason called Camp Scott Day at the Zoo.

“We wanted to do something nice and came up with a big fun day for the kids from Camp Scott,” he said. “We had shirts made for them and also some special coloring books.”

Mason said Batt has been very helpful with the zoo in a lot of other projects. Camp Scott has visited the zoo throughout the year.

“It was one of those things where we decided to do something big and nice and specific just for them — something to make them feel really special.”

With Camp Scott Day and other activities, Mason wants to show the community they’re more than just a zoo.

“We get so much from the community, so any way we can be involved in special things like this is important to us,” he said.

At the end of the day, each camper found out there was a teddy bear wearing a T-shirt with his or her picture on it.

“You didn’t choose your bear; the bear chose you,” Batt told the kids. “They told us they wanted to go home with you to live forever.”