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Therapy camp opens doors for disabled children

Summer time means camp for most kids, but for children with disabilities, that special experience is hard to come by.
“For a lot of these kids, they don’t have a camp experience,” said Ashley Deaton.
That’s why Deaton and Kathy Bailey, co-founders of Footprints in the Community, decided to fill that gap with a camp experience that is not only fun, but developmentally appropriate for children with special needs. It also integrates the children into the community.
“A lot of the parents don’t have access or the financial ability to seek out therapy services over the summer,” Deaton said.
In addition, some parents of children with special needs are either not aware or comfortable with activities and services available to them in the community.
“We found when the parents see kids be successful with supported environment, they’re more likely to seek opportunities out,” Deaton said.
Their goal is to help children with special needs “access community services.”
“This is our signature event,” she said.
During July, children ages 2 through 8 meet once a week at North Hills Christian School for a summer therapy camp.
“We have themes each week,” Deaton said.
The first week, the children read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” They were given the book and a manipulative to go along with it, and then took part in correlating therapy activities.
The second week, the children went on a field trip to Huffman’s peach farm.
The following week was similar to the first, but with an airplane theme. The children received books about airplanes and an airplane themed magnet board.
Next week, the children will go on a field trip to the Rowan Regional Airport and watch a news helicopter land in a nearby field.
Volunteers are vital to the camp’s success. They come from a variety of backgrounds, and include high school and college students, as well as adults.
Deaton said their field trips have a one-to-one child to volunteer ratio for safety reasons.
On weeks when the children stay at North Hills, volunteers divide them into groups and rotate through stations where they take part in a variety of therapy activities.
The stations are for motor skills, speech, occupational therapy and academics.
At the motor skills station, the children might complete an obstacle course, or move their bodies like an airplane. For speech, they practice saying target words that go along with that week’s theme. At the occupational therapy station, they work on sensory activities, such as finger painting, or playing with toys in sand or water. The academic station focuses on age appropriate concepts such as positional words and phrases.
The children are given a pre-camp assessment the first week to see how independent they are at each station. At the end of the month, they take the same assessment to see how much they’ve grown.
In addition to camp activities, they are given a camp notebook with homework to practice the skills they developed at camp.
Children with any special need are allowed to attend the camp — from a speech delay to something significantly more involved.
Haley Leaser is volunteering for her second year because she loves working with kids.
“I feel like this is a good way to get them out and involved in the community,” the 18 year old said.
Leaser said she wants to be a pediatrician.
The therapy camp is available free of charge to the students, because of private donors, local grants and an annual fundraising golf tournament.

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