Helping Hands: Group kick-starts camp for special needs kids
Summit Daily News
What started just two months ago as a brainstorm between a few Summit County parents is looking like it’s becoming a reality. Members of Families of Exceptional Learners – a group of parents with special needs children that provides resources and encouragement for each other – are busy planning a new summer day camp for youth with disabilities.
“This is something that was very much missing from our community,” said Kristin Kennedy, whose 16-year-old son Stephen has Down syndrome. “I know people who have had to move because they had to have some kind of care for their family member, and there wasn’t anything up here. This is something almost every community has, except for ours.”
“We just thought, ‘how great would it be if we could put together a program that addressed the needs of children with disabilities,” said Betty Sarber, founder of FOEL. “This is a pilot, and we’re hoping it’s really successful and we can expand it next year.”
In March, the group approached representatives from Easter Seals Rocky Mountain Village, a camp in Empire serving those with special needs and disabilities. Kelly Housman, director of camping and recreation at the camp, said her original intention was just to advise the parents on their idea, but offered to run a camp after realizing the need in Summit County and seeing the opportunity to expand services to the area.
“They’re very educated and trained,” Sarber said. “They know how to help people – whether they’re in a wheelchair or developmentally delayed.”
The program – which FOEL hopes to run two days a week this year and expand next year – will serve children ages 13-21, an age group both Sarber and Kennedy said is in the greatest need of care since most day programs only take children up to 12. The parents want to expand the age group to include children under 12 if the pilot program is successful.
“With our kids, they need to have full-time supervision,” Sarber said. “Even though they’re chronologically age 13 -21, developmentally they’re delayed. They’re just like us – they don’t want to be sitting around in front of a television (all day).”
Through in-kind partnerships with the Breckenridge and Silverthorne recreation centers, the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center and Keystone Science School, Sarber said the children can enjoy all sorts of summer activities like rafting, hiking and horseback riding. Housman said she is also looking for opportunities within the community where the children can volunteer, to help them build work and life skills.
Sarber said because the camp – slated to start mid-June – was organized in such a short period of time, planning is still in the works. The group is finalizing plans with the school district to rent space while waiting to hear about a grant which will allow the camp to run as they hope.
“We’re pretty optimistic,” she said.
The rest of the funding will come from parent fees ($40 a day) and fundraisers. An all-you-can-eat breakfast is being held this Sunday, May 15 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Elk’s Lodge in Silverthorne to help with camp start-up costs. If they don’t get the grant, Sarber said they will see what is possible with the funds they have.
“We’re hopeful this is a good pairing to bring a new provider into our community for what we see as a really critical need,” Sarber said.
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