Rotary summer camp helps disabled children

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By Jeff M. Hardison

"Service Above Self" is the Rotary Club motto, and Chiefland Rotary Club members learned on March 19 about another place where they can serve by donating funds.

Rotary Youth Camp is set to give some special children an enjoyable six days and five nights this summer during two separate sessions, said Leslie C. Smith, the camp's executive director. The 12 days of summer fun comes at a price.

Marking its fourteenth summer this year, Rotary Youth Camp serves a particular type of child who is aged between 7 and 16 years old, Smith said.

Children with Spina Bifida, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, terminal illnesses, Down Syndrome, amputees and with other special needs are qualified for this camp.

Counselors give special care to these children, some of whom are completely dependent on someone for everything. Some of the campers require feeding tubes, colostomy bags and other mechanical aids, Smith said. Some children must be washed, fed and clothed.

"We give their parents a much-needed break," she added. "Even when children with special needs are in school, they still come home at night."

These campers' families pay nothing, Smith said, in part because their medical expenses are enough.

The pay for counselors is something other than monetary.

Each counselor is assigned only two campers, she said. The salary for counselors is $250 for 17 days, and they all are on duty 24-hours of each day a camper is in their care, Smith said.

Last summer, Rotary Youth Camp helped 54 campers during two sessions as the disabled children enjoyed swimming, horseback riding, horse and buggy riding, creating handicrafts, performing skits, using bows and arrows, shooting a shotgun and even having a dance. Counselors help each child participate as much as possible. The children make friends at camp too, Smith said.

This summer, she said, the goal is to have two sessions with 35 children in each session for a total of 70 campers. While each camper has different needs, the per-camper cost is about $1,500, she said.

The facility is in Gretna, about 25 miles west of Tallahassee. It is a former Methodist Church camp, she said. The camp is for all of this type of children who live in the Rotary district, which includes Levy County. This Rotary District is number 6940.

All 25 counties west of the eastern boundaries of Levy, Gilchrist and Columbia counties are in this district.

Charlie Rockwood is the Rotarian who was at the forefront of bringing this camp to fruition, Smith said. She said the Quincy Rotary Club has this charity as its sole project. Last year, Quincy Rotary Club gave $21,500.