Barbecue for a Cause

What could be better on a crisp October day than some good old-fashioned Texas barbecue? The hundreds of people who come out to the Camp Craig Allen Annual BBQ Cook-Off might answer “nothing,” except maybe the cause they are cooking for.

Camp Craig Allen was founded in 2007 as a nonprofit organization for the advocacy and empowerment of individuals with physical disabilities. To the group’s founder, Dawn Cruzan, this project is much older than 10 years. This is a passion she has pursued since her childhood, in honor of her brother, Craig Allen.

Growing up, Craig and Ms. Cruzan were child visionaries, imagining a world in which everyone could participate in every activity, without worry of judgment or barriers. Even when attending a summer camp for people with physical disabilities every year, the two of them recognized areas that needed improvement and brainstormed ways they could make things better for everyone. “This was before any Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) laws, so there were not even widened doorways or wheelchair-accessible bathrooms at the camp,” Ms. Cruzan remembers. “We had to carry the campers up and down stairs because there were no alternatives. Once Craig turned 18, he aged out and could no longer attend. Right then, we knew when we opened our camp, we would never put an age limitation on campers.” 

When Craig passed away, at age 22, Ms. Cruzan continued to carry their shared dream with her, never giving up hope of one day creating a truly all-inclusive facility. In 2007, she took the plunge and sold her medical equipment company, founding Camp Craig Allen in memory of her brother and in honor of all those with physical disabilities. 

The organization’s ultimate goal is to build their dream, the Frisco Hope Center, where campers of any age can come and gain physical and emotional support and a true sense of independence. “We want the Frisco Hope Center to be a resource for those diagnosed with disabilities or injuries, where they can be taken to the next step of engaging in a very independent and therapeutic lifestyle,” explains Ms. Cruzan. With a goal this large to achieve, there is, of course, some major fundraising involved. 

Camp Craig Allen’s biggest fundraising event is their annual BBQ Cook-Off. The event is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, on October 6-7, and people are highly-encouraged to come for “great food and great fun for a great cause!”

In deciding what sort of event to organize to raise money, Ms. Cruzan says, “We wanted a fundraiser that would engage everyone; something that would bring in families, promote fellowship and incorporate great food. We knew if we hit those three things, we could be a success.” 

She was not wrong. Every year, this event pulls in tons of local people who come to enjoy friends, fellowship, fun and, of course, the food. Some of these people were pulled in long ago and have never been able to stop coming … those who Ms. Cruzan calls her “alumni teams.”

Brian Roberts and his Reigning Grand Champion barbecue team, the Meat Meisters, for example, have been attending every year since they first started barbecuing in the event’s second year. In fact, the event acts as the family’s yearly reunion. Mr. Roberts says, “It has been a running joke for years that we have not been able to get together for Thanksgiving or Christmas because everyone has been too busy, but you better believe every barbecue, our family is there.” 

Mr. Roberts’ cousin has muscular dystrophy, and she is who brought the rest of the family to Camp Craig Allen in the first place. “Our family loves Camp Craig Allen because no matter what goes on, she always has a place to be herself. She is not judged or held back by her disability, she is praised, welcomed and encouraged.” 

Of course, the friendly competition aspect of the cook-off is a huge pull for participants. What Mr. Roberts claims to be the most rewarding are not the trophies, but the friends you make every year, and the good you can do in having so much fun. “You could say we have impacted Camp Craig Allen by raising money and whatnot, but we really see it as Camp Craig Allen impacting and inspiring us. Now, we raise money year-round to help other people and other local advocacy centers, not only for Camp Craig Allen.”

However, it cannot be denied that the Meat Meisters, and all those like them, have significantly impacted Camp Craig Allen in turn. Just in returning every year, the community keeps this fundraiser going and keeps the camp alive for those who have come to call it a sort of home. 

Tim Pregler is another inspiring individual entwined with Camp Craig Allen’s inspiring story and its barbecue cook-off. A longtime friend of Ms. Cruzan, Mr. Pregler has been cooking for the event since nearly its beginning. After competing for a few years under the team name “Tim’s Tailgate Barbeque” and winning the Big Heart prize, awarded to the team that raises the most money for the organization’s event, several years in a row, he realized he could do more. 

Mr. Pregler started his own organization, Karma Que, which brought together barbeque cooks from all over into one large team. They traveled the state cooking at venues and competitions and catering events to raise even more money. As opposed to a typical competitive team, Mr. Pregler says Karma Que is not interested in winning any trophies. “We are more interested in doing something good with this hobby we have all fallen in love with. We want to do something satisfying, but that ultimately gives back.”

Karma Que participates in any events it can, including the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World’s Championship Bar-B-Que contest, one of the top four barbecue events in the world. All profits gained through their efforts go to charities, including Camp Craig Allen. They also support Habitat for Humanity, Dallas CASA, Metroplex Adaptive Water Sports and more. The idea of the organization is “Karma: what goes around comes around. If you do some good with your ‘que, you will get some good back.”

Patrons like Mr. Roberts and Mr. Pregler fill Toyota Stadium’s parking lot every October, doing what they can to raise awareness, education and advocacy for people with physical disabilities, but they do not forget to have a lot of fun along the way. 

Every year, the event kicks off Friday night with a casino night. With live band lineups, real chips for casino games and a tasty barbecue dinner to boot, you can start your weekend right. All-day fun for the whole family awaits on Saturday, as the cooking and judging begins for the 17 different competitive categories. From chicken and ribs to margaritas and team spirit, there is a class for everyone to compete! There will be adaptive hockey and basketball expos, and those without the need of a wheelchair are encouraged to try their hand and wheels at a game of adaptive basketball against the talented athlete campers of Camp Craig Allen! The new kids’ barbecue event, Kids Q, pairs a child with a disability and a child without one in a two-man cook team. Judged on teamwork, communication and safety, the kids submit their dish into the chicken category for final judging. It is a great way to educate and encourage inclusive interactions and friendships. Saturday wraps up with awards for each category and a music fest that plays into the night. 

Get together with your friends and family and register your own cook team to compete. You can also register your company to compete for a day of team-building fun on an unconventional office retreat. More registration information can be found at
campcraigallen.org.

Whether you are interested in competing, want to sample some tasty barbecue or you have a family member who is a camper, the annual Camp Craig Allen BBQ Cook-Off is sure to be a rewarding and tasty experience.