Camp Smiles – Your Area


By: Anita Howell

Camp Smiles turns 3 this year!!! We are now Camp Smiles – Grand Strand and operate as our own stand alone nonprofit. We have a proven system, community support, and an amazing team of people. Camp Smiles Grand Strand is set to be around for years to come. Now it is time to turn our attention towards helping you start Camp Smiles – Your Area.

If I were standing beside you as you contemplate taking the leap, I would grab your hand and jump with you. Before we jumped, I would tell you that some people won’t see your vision and that’s ok. You will also find people who expand your vision to new heights beyond your wildest imagination.

Group picture with the King, our kids and Camp Smiles staff.

The first year will stretch your faith the most but we hope to make your start easier by sharing our tips, camper/counselor applications, schedules, letters, etc.

Your Leap, Step #1:

Ryan meeting the King from Medieval Times!

Recruit a team – as you brainstorm for those who might join your team, remember parents, teachers, local universities/technical colleges, charter schools, churches, etc. Also, think about reaching out to a special needs camp in the next county to see if they have guidance on local funding and assistance.

Camp Smiles Grand Strand is successful because we have an amazing team that includes parents, a CPA, special education teachers, and college students. Each member takes their part and runs with it. Of course, fundraising is everyone’s responsibility but each uses their gifts and talents in different ways even when it comes to fundraising.

Music Therapist, Sarah, singing about Morgan’s favorite animal, her dog.

Step #2:

Seek community partners like therapy clinics, local higher education programs, the local school district, businesses, etc. Those partnerships have meant support in a variety of ways. With those partnerships we have gained loaner equipment, financial support, community awareness, services, meal donations, supply donations, and free activities for our children. Additionally, those partnerships look impressive to the grantors and donors.

Step #3:

Meet with the team to brainstorm and develop your mission. Ours is to serve children who have no access to other camps in the area. Who do you want to reach? What age group? What needs can you cover? Where will you find those you seek to serve? Who are your potential partners? What connections do each of you have?

Jacob meeting one of the therapy dogs during a visit from Therapy Dogs International.

Step #4:

Consider seeking a reputable local nonprofit as a partner. The support of this partnership will significantly reduce the workload during the busy first year. We partnered with Coastal Carolina University and they received donations, processed payroll, and processed vendor payments. This also delayed the work of completing the necessary paperwork to establish Camp Smiles Grand Strand as a nonprofit.

If you choose to partner with another nonprofit, seek someone with a good reputation to protect the funds. This will also give more credibility when submitting grant requests and holding fundraisers. We relied heavily on the reputation of the university during the first year. Now I’m stunned at how many people know about Camp Smiles. I’ve even had people I didn’t know come up to me and Ryan to make sure that I knew about Camp Smiles.

Kennedy enjoying art time.

Step #5:

Start fundraising early, at least 9 months to a year out. Potential funding sources for special needs children include Knights of Columbus, your state’s Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, and foundations in your area. Go online and search, “grant your county” and “foundation your county” to see what is available. Also, many local restaurants will have community nights were a portion of the proceeds will go to a designated nonprofit. Thankfully, we have been able to avoid the need for tuition but it is an option we consider each year.

These steps will get you well on your way. Many of the points above would also apply to other programs that you envision. Whatever your vision, seek out support in the community. I think they will surprise you. Let us know if you have questions, hurdles, reservations, and successes.

Olivia enjoying the pool during our Camp Smiles Birthday Party.

Praying for great successes!


Writer’s Profile
Anita and Wes have been married since 1988 and have three children, CP Warrior Ryan, RN Emily, and Emily’s husband Caleb, aka Mr. Bethea. You can reach her at or on her website,

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