SOCORRO, N.M., June 13, 2002 -- For most children, summer vacation means freedom: no school, no homework. However, for a child with muscular dystrophy there is no freedom from leg braces or wheelchairs; but there is MDA Summer Camp.

This past week, the New Mexico Muscular Dystrophy Association held its annual MDA "Boot Camp" in Socorro. Forty-nine children from throughout New Mexico and El Paso gathered on the New Mexico Tech campus for fun and games, as they have for the past ten years.

Wednesday, June 12, was VIP Day, and some of the special guests were the Socorro Fire Department and Richard Long and his Goju Ryu Karate group from Belen. Also, making its first appearance at the summer camp was the 512th Special Operations Squadron and its helicopter from Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.

Campers and counselors posed for pictures in the helicopter with the crew. Other events were a hayride, caricatures from artist Carlos Fragoso, a baseball game, and a pie-eating contest.

Another first-time guest was Jingles the Clown. With her bright orange hair and infectious smile, Jingles was popular with both children and adults as she cheerfully painted designs on faces. The happy clown and face artist turned campers and counselors into kittens, dragons, and butterflies.

(Jingles the Clown is actually Jean Jenkins of Albuquerque. Jenkins is a retired schoolteacher. A year after she retired, Jenkins realized that she missed being with children, so four years ago she went to clown school and Jingles the Clown was born.)

For the past ten years, Thelma Herrera has been the camp director. Herrera's favorite part of MDA Camp is the talent show. Many of the children at the camp have been here before, but according to Herrera, "The talent show is different every year, it's always wonderful and original."

Jackie Wilson, a student at Cibola High School in Albuquerque, is a first-time camp counselor. Jackie originally went to sign up for summer medical camp, but ended up volunteering to be an MDA camp counselor.

At most summer camps, a counselor is assigned to a group of children, but at MDA camp one counselor is assigned to each child. Wilson says this "one-on-one experience and getting to know the kids" was the best part of camp.

Cody Hale, 19, is a camper who has been making the trip from his home in Hobbs, N.M. to MDA Camp in Socorro for the entire ten summers it's been held there. Hale says he loves seeing old friends and making new friends, but his favorite part of camp is the dinner and dance held on the last night of camp. After MDA camp, Hale will be getting ready to attend Texas Tech in Lubbock during the upcoming fall semester.

Barbara Leonard, co-director of the MDA camp, says "the planning is nerve-racking, but once you get here, it's great. You hate to see it end."