By Anita Howell
One year, dozens of hurdles, a couple of panic attacks, a few doubts and thousand of smiles later, we have an amazing annual camp for children with Cerebral Palsy or Down Syndrome – Camp Smiles!!!!!
At the end of the first day, every hurdle, panic, and doubt was completely forgotten. All that remained was an overwhelming joy at seeing the end results and future potential. The children had fun, the families had a much needed break, and the counselors knew they were indeed preparing for a career they would love. On the last day of camp the counselors, students, and parents all cried and were eager to be a part of camp the following summer.
How did we develop the program?
Dr. John Delport and Dr. Nanci Howard, special education professors from Coastal Carolina University, developed the daily structure and schedule. The children were broken into three groups that rotated among four blocks of activities, 1) Music Therapy, 2) Adaptive Physical Education, 3) Art, and 4) Literacy.
Dr. Delport hired students from within the special education program at the university to be counselors. This also included 4 lead positions, one for each block of activity, and those leads planned the activities for music, physical education, art, and literacy. The only rule he gave them was to make sure that campers and staff had fun.
Dr. Howard recruited students from her graduate level class, who were mainstream teachers, to volunteer during the summer as a part of their curriculum. Each week they wrote a synopsis of what they experienced and the common theme was “I had no idea that it was possible to make such an impact on special education students” or “I now see these children differently. I see them as individuals with varying personalities. I see their humor, their own way of communicating, how easy it is to make them smile and laugh, and how aware they are of those around them.”
Additionally, Dr. Delport wanted to include special activities through local groups such as Young Talkers Speech Therapy, Therapy Dogs International, Ripley’s Aquarium, and even a Storm Trooper.
Everyone from the leaders, counselors, campers, families, and outside special activity groups are eager to participate again this year.
How did we find the funding?
We successfully reached out for funding and support from:
- Coastal Carolina University – Their Literacy Program provided financial support.
- Local Media – Covered the story to bring awareness to the financial need.
- Knights of Columbus – To qualify be sure they know there are developmental delays.
- Local Foundations – Google “Foundation” along with your county.
- Seamless Summer Feeding Program – Checked with our school district for participation requirements. This is a federal program that will deliver meals and snacks daily for all of the children in our program.
- Local churches – Had our team reach out to their connections.
- Go Fund Me – Included pictures of our smiling campers, the more the better.
- Fundraisers – Local businesses started their own fundraisers on behalf of Camp Smiles.
Can you do this?
Definitely! You’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to help when you help them figure out a way. In the end, we had to reduce camp by one week to balance the budget, but that was still 5 more weeks than the children would’ve had if we hadn’t taken the leap of faith.
Please support Camp Smiles and share our pages with your church, friends, co-workers, employers, and family. They are:
Please don’t hesitate to call or email with any questions. My cell number is 843-254-2804 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Anita Howell has been married to Wes since 1988. They have a daughter named Emily who is currently attending college, and a son, Ryan. She writes, “Though I have never been a medical, research, or legal professional, Ryan’s stroke at birth has thrown me into the deep end of the pool for all of it. It was quite overwhelming in the early years; however, God has made Philippians 4:13 very real throughout my journey.”