Camp is the quintessential encounter of an American summer. Whether art camp, horse riding camp, space camp, or just a week of outdoor play, summer camp is the time to make friends, have new experiences, and make the most of the months away from school.
But what about kids with special needs? Many summer camps aren’t equipped to handle children who may have trouble with mobility, behavioral issues, or even specialized medical needs. And that’s where Camp Ability steps in.
Organized and operated by Special Kids, a Christian nonprofit dedicated to helping kids and families with special needs, Camp Ability is a seven-week summer day camp. Any young person aged six to 25 can attend, no matter their disability or special need.
“We have everything from diabetes—which normally can’t be cared for at summer camp)—to autism, to kids in wheelchairs for multiple reasons,” says Ginger Spencer, the Director of Marketing for Special Kids.
Spencer is passionate about Camp Ability, saying, “It’s probably the funnest thing we do at Special Kids.” More than that, too, being around their peers often helps the campers to reach social goals and make friends. This year will be the camp’s tenth.
“It started with 25 campers, and last year we had 78. We expect to break 80 this year,” says Spencer. “The kids look forward to it every year.”
Camp Ability runs from the beginning of June until the end of July in two sessions. Kids can participate in either session or both, and the cost is just $100 per week, thanks to the grant providers who have subsidized the program. Some scholarships are available, and, says Spencer, “We do have some campers who fund-raise. One camper sells zucchini bread at church,” to pay for his time at camp, for example.
The camp is held at North Boulevard Church of Christ, but through a partnership with MTSU, the campers also have access to athletic facilities on campus. They go to the MTSU pool every week, and throughout the summer they use the tennis courts and have clinics with basketball and football players. Bill Taylor’s Bushido School of Karate also provides karate lessons, and Lowe’s Home Improvement sponsors a Build Day to teach new skills.
“It’s amazing how the community comes out to support these kids,” says Spencer.
In addition to these special activities, the campers have Bible study every day, puppet shows, field trips every week, and a limo ride at the end of the summer—basically, they do everything kids do (and love!) at camp. “It’s a lot of go, go, go,” Spencer says with a laugh.
The camp is staffed by both volunteers and counselors, as well as a camp nurse who can administer medications and provide mild medical care, such as treating kids with diabetes.
“We have lots of paid staff—one counselor for every three kids,” says Spencer. “Obviously we need a great staff to make this work.” The camp runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, and extended care, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., is also available for an additional $20 per week.
To learn more about Camp Ability, visit specialkidstn.com and download the registration form. Parents should fill out the form and bring it to an orientation on either Sat., April 9, or Sat., April 30. The camp is growing each year, says Spencer, but they must still operate for now on a first-come, first-serve basis, so she encourages interested families to get in touch with Special Kids as soon as possible.
Those interested in volunteering should also reach out well in advance, notes Spencer, who adds that the camp is also currently hiring counselors. For more information, contact Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org.