Fundraiser set for April 11 in Bartonville.

Nobody looks at Tim Montis funny while he eats during the one week every summer he gets to go to camp. 

Montis, 27, of Peoria, suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was in a car crash at age 18. 

“I have to feed him so when we go out to eat, people stare,” said Montis’ mom Rose Cole. “When he is at camp he is with others who need help being fed, so he has a chance to feel like he’s part of the group.”

Montis and other members of the Brain Injury Group, a central Illinois-area support group, attend one week of camp in the summer at the Timbre Pointe Outdoor Center at Lake Bloomington, near Hudson. The cost is about $600 per camper. 

To help campers pay for the week at Lake Bloomington, BIG is holding a fundraiser starting at 1 p.m. April 11 at the Bartonville American Legion, 4501 Airport Road, Peoria. The cost for dinner is $10 and the event features games and live music. 

Montis has been attending the camp for several years. During the week he has the chance to go horseback riding, fishing and other daily activities supervised by volunteers and medical personal. 

“It’s very important to him,” Cole said. “He looks forward to it because it’s really the only time he gets to get out on his own and have fun.”

It also gives him a chance to interact with others who have suffered a brain injury. 

“He told me after the first time he went, ‘Mom, I’m not a freak when I am there,’” Cole said. “It means a great deal to me that he has a place where he can feel like he belongs.”

Traumatic brain injuries — caused by stroke, car crashes, falls, shaken baby syndrome and others — affect twice as many people as all the other diseases combined, said Chris Hess, chairwoman of the BIG. 

The BIG is a local chapter associated with the Brain Injury 

Association of Illinois. 

“People can look absolutely normal,” Hess said. “But there’s no cure for it. Everyone heals differently and copes differently to injuries, but head injuries change a person’s life and the lives of those around them.”

Hess of Hanna City became involved in BIG after her daughter suffered a severe head injury in a car crash about 17 years ago. 

Her daughter, who had a career as a nurse and a family with two young children, is now a patient at a rehabilitation center. 

“For many survivors, they live in nursing homes and centers and going to camp is a big deal to them,” Hess said. “Many get a lift out of camp and you can see them working to do better. That’s why it is so important that we help those get to camp who otherwise can’t afford it.”

Typically, the local group tries to raise enough money to help pay for six to eight survivors go to camp, Hess said. The camp typically hosts an average of 40 brain injury survivors from the area and the state every summer. 

BIG is a non-profit that also serves as a support group to survivors and their family. 

Group meetings are held at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month at the United Auto Workers Local 974 Hall, 3025 Springfield Road, East Peoria. 

“It helps people share resources and even to vent their frustrations,” Hess said. 

For those who cannot attend the fundraiser but who would like to donate to BIG, checks can be made out to Brain Injury Group, 14014 Smithville Road, Hanna City, IL 61536. A receipt for tax deductions will be mailed to those who provide a return address, Hess said. 

Cole said the support group has been valuable in helping her find specialists for her son. 

“With a brain injury, nothing is normal anymore, even going to the eye doctor, for a routine exam,” Cole said. “And sometimes you don’t even realize it until you are confronted with it. (BIG) has helped us when looking for doctors.”

But it also has given Cole and her son help during the times when he is frustrated with trying to cope with his brain injury.

“He was an active 18-year-old young man with a girlfriend and endless possibilities in front of him, and now that is gone,” Cole said. “He knows what  he is missing. It helps that we both have people to talk to that can understand.”