The 16 campers and their buddies at Camp Sp’Arc had sparkles in their eyes as they played volleyball and basketball in the gym at John Carroll School in Bel Air.
It’s a new summer camp sponsored by the Arc Northern Chesapeake Region for children ages 6 to 21 with and without disabilities.
“It’s about inclusion, about acceptance,” camp director Phil Givens said Wednesday, “and having children learn new things, try new things.”
The camp is held four weeks this summer — two in June, this week and next week, with a new theme each week — Environmental Week, Emergency Responder Week, Sports Week and Animal Week.
Sixteen campers are attending this week with 17 volunteers and a half-dozen staff members; 26 campers are scheduled to attend next week.
The camp is $600 a week, paid through private pay or through grant funding to help families that need it, Givens said. This year, he solicited sponsors from local businesses who have supported different events or even campers’ tuition.
“The more sponsorships we get the cheaper we can make camp,” Given said.
Givens works for the Family Support Services division of The Arc and organized this year’s camp. Other events throughout the year include big trips one Saturday a month, the Wednesday Night Dinner Club and life skills classes, where students learn about money, cooking, transportation, cleaning and laundry and other essentials.
Givens was the "P" in P&J’s Life Skills LLC, which he co-founded with fellow Patterson Mill High graduate Jon Williams. The organization ran camps and other activities for special needs youngsters in Harford and Cecil counties.
“I hate to see people made fun of and not included in things,” Givens said.
Summer camp allows them to be included, he said.
Each day is something new, with some type of field trip daily. During Emergency Services Week, the campers got to use a fire hose at Aberdeen Proving Ground and ride a fire truck at Level Volunteer Fire Company. For Environmental Week, the campers took a trip to Scarboro Landfill, where they learned about soils and planting flowers and got to tour the dump.
“It gives the campers the opportunity to experiences things they probably never have,” Givens said.
This week, campers bowled at Harford Lanes on Wednesday and were to tour Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Thursday.
On Tuesday, the campers went to Towson University to tour the stadium, and 10-year-old Lenny Elliott got to watch a new sign be installed.
“People were installing the MedStar Health sign. I’ve never seen in person them install a sign,” Lenny, who will be in fifth grade at William S. James Elementary, said. “We also went into the locker room and put on football uniforms.”
It was pretty big on him, he said.
Lenny and his 9-year-old brother, Shane, who will be in fourth grade at William S. James, have a bit of sibling rivalry going on. While they enjoy each other, one of them is always trying to be first.
And Shane didn’t really want to talk - he was mad because Lenny got to talk first.
Lenny said the camp activities Wednesday, which included bowling at Harford Lanes in the afternoon, is “basically like recess."
They also got to stream live TV and watch it on a big screen. One of his favorites is SpongeBob SquarePants, but only the ones from the early 2000s, when they had better animation.
A fun fact that Lenny pointed out: SpongeBob was originally named SpongeBoy (and the show SpongeBoy Ahoy!), but that name was copyrighted so it was changed to SpongeBob SquarePants.
For Faith Guilbault, Camp Sp’Arc gets her out of the house.
“It’s cool, we get to do field trips every day, fun stuff,” said Faith, 15, who will be in 10th grade at Maryland School for the Blind this fall. She used to attend C. Milton Wright.
Faith is also a model for Tommy Hilfiger, which makes adaptive clothing for children, including the shoes she wore Wednesday.
Faith walks with braces on her lower legs and a walker and couldn’t find shoes that fit around the braces. The ones she was wearing are larger at the ankles and zip instead of tie, making them much easier to get on and off, Faith said.
She models other types of clothing, too, and enjoys the opportunity.
“It’s kind of exciting, there’s adrenaline,” Faith said.
She gets her make-up and hair done and feels special when she’s modeling, but she gets tired, “because they’re really long days,” she said.
Nicholas Washington, 15, who attends CMW and is also starting 10th grade, was showing off his shooting skills — basketball, after all, is his favorite sport. And he got to play a lot of it Wednesday.
He also attended camp for Environmental Week and said he enjoyed the trip to Eden Mill, where he and his fellow campers took a canoe ride.
Each camper is assigned a buddy for the week.
“Their job is to be a friend, a role model,” Givens said. “The campers are picking up their good behavior.”
Daphne Pace, 15, of Bel Air, who will be in 10th grade at Notre Dame Prep in the fall, is volunteering all four weeks at the camp.
She had nothing to do this summer and she had never worked with kids with special needs or disabilities before. When her family brought it up to her, she said it sounded interesting.
“I feel kids with special needs are in the own separate world, but we should be together, have relationships with them,” Daphne said.
The first three weeks haven’t been without their struggles — like getting the campers to stop doing something, or start.
“It’s been really eye-opening. Even for kids without special needs, I’ve learned new ways of approaching how to do things with them,” she said.
Her favorite part has been meeting new friends, including Max, 20, who was her buddy the first two weeks.
“He was such a good influence,” Daphne said. “He had such a positive outlook on life, not matter what.”
Max isn’t at camp this week, but the two often Facetime each other.
The Morning Sun
Sisters Delaney Meller, 15, and Sydney Meller, 13, learned about the camp from their mother, who works for The Arc.
“We were really excited to start,” said Delaney, who will be a 10th-grader at Aberdeen High. “We love just going to The Arc, meeting the individuals there, we thought it would be fun to try this out.”
Sydney said she made friends she didn’t think she would make.
“And I think it’s really important to show individuals really are the same, not different,” Sydney said. “People shouldn’t see differences.”
So many of the campers and volunteers are from many different places and social groups across the county, Delaney said.
“It’s good they can come together, do something good for really good people and have a good time,” she said. “And it’s good for their social skills."
Anyone who would like to learn more about the camp or camp sponsorships can contact Givens, 410-322-5188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.