For the past 14 years, Canter’s Cave 4-H Camp has taken a weekend during the summer to transform itself into a home away from home for some very special people. Ohio 4-H Special Needs Camp was started as a way to allow those young people with unique needs that cannot be accommodated during one of our typical Camps a chance to experience what we all love – instant and lasting community, the opportunity to try new things in a supportive environment, and the chance to sing some silly songs, among other things.
During the Camp, youth do all the normal Camp activities - environmental science, crafts, music, outdoor education, water safety, and campfire - all while developing decision-making skills and self-reliability. Some activities take more thought, and support, to make them accessible for our Campers, but we have an amazing group that can pull off great things. When one of our Campers asked about canoeing, for example, we had to get creative. We now have motorized paddleboats for campers who do not have the ability to help propel a typical paddleboat. More than half of the Campers had never been on a boat, and as one Camper stated, “Boating helps you be calm and learn to take charge as the captain of your boat. You have to learn to be a good leader as a captain and I want to be that one day!” We have also figured out a way to tie-dye with our campers, including using bubbles for those who may not be able to roll a shirt or use traditional methods.
The camp has an enormous impact on campers and their families. As one mother stated, “Gregory has two-and-a-half days of no medical appointments, no physical therapy, and a schedule that is entirely about him and his fellow campers. Our special kids are treated as normally as possible and that’s all we want as parents of a special needs child.”
When asked about a favorite memory from Camp, many caregivers took care to mention the relationships formed during this short time period. "All the smiles on the kid's faces & the great helpers making it special for them," "Being with the campers and seeing them grow through the years," and this statement from a Camper, "Seeing all of my friends, staff, caregivers & parents."
As the Educator in charge of this Camp, making sure the Staff is trained and prepared for this group is a top priority, and seeing my Staff and Volunteers interacting, helping, and growing is honestly one of my favorite parts. We have had several Camp Staff Members and Counselors go on to work with special needs youth as career choices following this Camp over the years. One of my Staff Members looked at me during a recent Camp and stated, "I never thought anything bad about people with special needs, but I never knew they were so fun! This has changed the way I think about people who are different than I am."
While we may not be together in person as we would like this year, we are planning to make Camp even more accessible for future events. Your support helps us be prepared to welcome some of our most amazing Camp Families back!
Thank you for your support,
Ohio 4-H Special Needs Camp Director
Extension Educator and Area Leader
OSU Extension, Meigs County