By Desiree Johnson
Killeen Daily Herald
Many adults remember going away to summer camp when they were children.
Camp is fun, with activities such as swimming and archery, and it gives parents a chance to rest while school is out.
Going away to camp can be difficult for some children. For example, special-needs children often can't get away from therapy sessions for long periods of time, or camps don't come with adequate staff and equipment for children with disabilities.
Camp Care-A-Lot is trying to change that. For the past three years it has hosted a day camp for children with disabilities in an effort to give special-needschildren an experience they deserve to have just as much as any other child.
The camp is located at the Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for Children on Farm-to-Market 2484 between Youngsport and Killeen.
The camp's organizer and founder, Stephania Williams, was inspired to begin the camp because she saw the need for such a program firsthand. She is the regional coordinator for the Partner's Research Network, a local parent training and information center that hosts free workshops on disabilities.
A mother of three children, all with disabilities, Williams wanted these kids to have a chance to attend camp during the summer.
In the first year, the camp teamed with Parks and Recreation in Killeen and Fort Hood's Exceptional Family Member Program to create a day camp filled with activities for the kids and their families.
"We had almost 200 people come the first year, but that was mainly because we included their families," Williams said. "Since then, we've made the camp just for the campers, with the exception of the last day when families can join in for the carnival."
Attendance has continued to grow every year.
"Just seeing the kids' faces makes it all worth it. It makes me feel good," Williams said. "We try to do more every summer, and it's great to see the kids grow up and learn more with each year you see them return."
Working with kids ages 6 to 15, the three-day camp features a variety of activities from arts and crafts, to rope climbing, a movie theater and a zip-line swing. The camp ends with a carnival on the final day and an awards ceremony during which each child receives a certificate of appreciation and a host of prizes donated by local companies.
"The entire camp is run on donations, and a person can sponsor a child for $150 and cover the cost of their camping experience," Williams said. "The whole community comes out to help, and it's great. I just wish it was bigger."
Regardless of size, Camp Care-A-Lot is making a difference in the lives of its campers and families.
Gina Stanifer, a mother of five, welcomes the camp as a bit of rest amid a busy schedule. The camp helps Stanifer, recovering from thyroid cancer and with a husband deploying to Iraq in a few days, deal with the stress.
Her autistic son Devon, an 11-year-old first-time camper, has warmed to the idea of camp more than other activities.
"Sometimes, you don't know how you get up in the morning, but you just do. It's an obligation as a parent; the love of your child keeps you going," Stanifer said. "It's nice because he usually doesn't want to do much, and he always wants to come to this."
Denise Spitzer, a Fort Hood resident, heard about the program from her neurologist. Her three children, one with Tourette's syndrome and cerebral palsy and two with attention-deficit disorder, are attending the day camp for the first time and are having a great time.
"I do almost everything, and I like it all," her son Joshua said.
Participants aren't the only ones who leave with a unique experience. First-time volunteer Tom Laird has had a great time working with the kids.
"I'm in the military, and I went on leave so I could work the camp this year," Laird said.
An Army physician's assistant, Laird and his wife work with medical coverage at the camp.
"Every year the Central Texas College paramedic and EMT program brings in volunteers as a part of their curriculum, which can be nice in case of a medical emergency, too," Laird said. "It's a really great program. This gives them something they typically wouldn't be able to get."
Three-year veteran volunteer Jon Sanders said working with the program keeps him young.
"Just seeing them makes me smile," Sanders said. "When I see a need, I just help, and I love working with kids."
Sanders says the volunteers work hard.
"We meet at the community center as early as 6:30 a.m. and stay after the kids leave as long as it takes for us to get set up for the next day," Sanders said. "We run rain or shine. If it rains, we always have a backup indoor plan for the kids. Nothing really stops this camp."
Sanders looks forward to growth in attendance and plans for the camp.
"We have a lot of return campers every year, people hear about it through the Web site and word of mouth," Sanders said. "We invite people with all disabilities, from paraplegics to attention deficit disorder."
Most importantly, anyone can volunteer to help.
"If a child needs special one-on-one help, they bring a medical volunteer with them from outside the camp," Sanders said. "Volunteers don't need special training, just a love for kids and a willingness to volunteer."
Find out how you can help Camp Care-A-Lot by contacting Williams at 628-7977 or email@example.com.
Contact Desiree Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 501-7559