When we think of summer camp, it conjures up memories of swimming, trips to the ocean, horseback riding, boating, and outdoor games. For children with disabilities, however, these summer experiences are often missed.
Camp Lazy Days, a summer day camp for area children with disabilities, offers all this and much more to children on the Mid Shore. Through a partnership between the YMCA of Talbot County and theTalbot County Public Schools, children with such disabilities as cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, spina bifida, mental retardation and seizure disorders, can experience a free, safe day camp for six weeks every summer.
Camp Lazy Days was established through the Talbot County Health Department nearly 30 years ago. Today, the Camp is housed at Easton Middle School and uses the facilities of the YMCA of Talbot County. Curt Hutchinson, a special education teacher at Easton High School, co-directs the Camp with Amber Buchkowski, a special education teacher at Easton Middle School.
Hutchinson recalls the Camp’s growth over the last six years since he and Amber have been involved, “It began as a four-week camp with children ages five to 12 coming two weeks and children ages 12 to 21 coming for two weeks. We now offer 45 to 60 children from Talbot and Caroline counties the opportunity to come six weeks every summer.” Hutchinson adds, “In addition to the popularity among the campers, the Camp has been a popular place to work. We have very little turnover here. Our counselors are excellent, many come from the school system, and they have fun with the kids.”
Kevin Carroll of Easton, a two-year counselor with Camp Lazy Days and a part-time employee of the YMCA, beams when he talks about the Camp and how it has affected his life, stating, “These children have inspired me to change my career goal and to become a special education teacher.”
One child in particular won Kevin’s heart during the 2007 summer session. The camper’s name is Chase Collins and he has cerebral palsy. For Chase’s mother Molly Collins of Trappe, Camp Lazy Days provided her son with a life-changing experience. She recalls, “Camp Lazy Days brought out the little boy that we never thought he could be. He has self-confidence and is happy.” She adds, “We are so thankful that Chase is given the opportunity to go to Camp Lazy Days every summer.”
Carroll agrees, adding, “This camp is an experience of a lifetime for these kids.”
In addition to such fun activities as riding the rides at the Jolly Roger Amusement Park in Ocean City, MD; scaling a climbing wall in Columbia, MD, and taking a ride aboard the Patriot Cruises of St. Michaels, children attending camp get to swim in the YMCA pool, watch movies at Easton Premier Cinemas, make pottery at Clay Bakers, and play at Idlewild Park each day.
Hutchinson adds, “Camp Lazy Days offers a very enriching experience. We keep the kids active and they are tired at the end of the day. It is great seeing these kids doing new things. The Camp also provides continuity in the social lives of these children. Sometimes it is as simple as being the first one picked for a team, instead of the last.”
In addition to serving the children of the region, the camp serves the families of these children by offering families a chance to get respite from the day to day responsibilities of caring for kids with special needs. Parents of these children also get the reassurance that their children are being cared for in a safe environment.
Hutchinson states that it is often harder on the parents, than on the children, during drop-off time each day because many of these children have been cared for
full-time in their homes. Staff reassures parents about the Camp’s commitment to safety. In addition to specially-trained counselors, many of whom are special education assistants or teachers, the Camp has a certified nursing assistant who can help dispense medications during the day and treat bumps and bruises.
According to Molly Collins, however, “It is a relief to us to know that we are leaving our son at this camp. You just know that every single one of the counselors here loves what they are doing and goes the extra mile in making this a memorable and safe experience for each child.”
Another mother, Julieanne Atwell of Easton, whose autistic son Trevor attends Camp Lazy Days, comments, “Ever since going to Camp Lazy Days, Trevor has really started to change. Even his physicians and teacher have noticed improvement in his social behaviors. Camp has given him the tools he needed to express himself more.”
According to Hutchinson, this is the magic of Camp Lazy Days – it is a place where disabled kids get to be kids and also look forward to their summer vacation.
Camp Lazy Days is available to children ages five to 21. The camp is free and has no socio-economic requirements. Registrations are currently being accepted. For further information, contact E Hughes at the YMCA of Talbot County at 410-822-0566.
For information about donating to Camp Lazy Days, contact F. Graham Lee, Chief Development Officer at the YMCA of Talbot County at 410-822-0566 ext. 34.