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All fun and games and learning, too
Camp RAD provides for youth with disabilities
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Cameron Sims, 17, right, lights up with a smile as Jenny Miller offers him a choice of snacks during Camp RAD for adolescents with disabilities. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

                Camp RAD, a four-week long camp for young people ages 10-23 with intellectual or developmental disabilities, has parents, students and campers raving about the fun and benefits taking place at Luetta Moore Park from 1 to 4PM, Monday through Thursday.

                Camp RAD, which stands for Recreation for Adolescents with Disabilities, seeks to bridge the summertime gap between school and community for its participants. The program is a collaborative event between Georgia Southern University, Statesboro Parks and Recreation and the Therapy SPOT and is funded by a grant from Georgia Southern Research and Service Foundation, Pineland Mental Health Services and Easter Seals.

                Camp RAD originated with an idea by Dr. Gavin Colquitt, an Assistant Professor at Georgia Southern whose specialty is Adapted Physical Education. “Four years ago when it started, there was nothing like this available for kids with disabilities, no recreational kinds of camps.” Serving as Camp Directors alongside Colquitt are Dr. Katy Gregg, Associate Professor at Georgia Southern in Child and Family Development and Dr. Ashley Walker, Georgia Southern Associate Professor in Community Health.

                Twenty-four campers jump right into a physical activity, usually outdoors, during the first hour. The activity follows the theme for the week and the focus for the day. One particular day, the campers took part in a relay that involved figuring out different ways to put on clothes for a ‘self-care’ theme.

After actively moving for about forty-five minutes, the energized, sweaty young people came inside for a cool-down activity and then a clothes-sorting activity. “One thing the parents asked for more of after last year’s camp was activities that helped the kids become more independent, so we do things like talk about sorting clothes and helping with chores.”

It’s a win-win situation, any way you look at the games and activities of the day. The campers stay physically active, mentally challenged and socially encouraged throughout the long days of summer. Parents get a short break, but also much-needed support with newsletters that come home and interaction with the staff of the camp about their children.

Unique this year, camp counselors are actually getting college credit for their participation. Many of those students have plans to pursue occupational or physical therapy training or educational positions. With a one-to-one ration between campers and counselors, each student receives undivided attention during the camp experience.

Brooke Johnson, Springfield, Georgia, is an Exercise Science major and wants to attend Occupational Therapy school. “I want to specialize in pediatrics,” said Johnson, “and this is an incredible opportunity to get to work with these kids. We’ve been able to interact with them, implement some of our own activities and create goals that we help them strive to reach each week.”

Georgia Southern student Taylor Forney, Statesboro is majoring in Child and Family Development with an emphasis in Child Life but said she took the class because of a passion she has. “I’ve always had a heart for special needs children, so it’s related to my major, but I really just enjoy being with the kids. I love it!”

Even before camp began, counselors and workers met to join forces with educators, social workers, therapists, parents and clinicians to formulate an individual profile on each camper to best meet the need of that camper. “Every student who is taking this course knows their camper inside and out,” said Colquitt.

Amy Lewis, mother of camper Michael Lewis, said her son is “having a ball” his first year at camp. Fifteen-year-old Michael, who has autism, adores his counselor and everything about the program, according to his mom. Lewis said, “We weren’t sure in the beginning how he would be away from mom and dad, but he is so happy every time we pick him up, and as soon as he sees that his counselor is here, he is ready for us to leave him.

“He opens up more since he’s been coming and he wants to be outside more. This program has encouraged him to try sports and be more active outside.”

Lynn Sims, mom of camper Cameron Sims, who had four strokes before birth and is wheelchair-bound, said Cameron has participated since the first year and loves it. “He learns so much and gets to interact with other kids instead of staying at home listening to his CD all day. He gets speech and PT and that’s a godsend!

“There’s nothing else out there like this for our kids,” said Sims.

Sims said that even though her son is blessed with two very good, caring and supportive siblings, both of whom work for the Sheriff’s Department, she likes the fact that Cameron can meet and form his own friendships at the camp.

 

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