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Head-injured children pitch camp


It's difficult to tell who's more excited to be at Camp Ken-Do this week: the campers or their counselors.

Sharon Borshay, Lisa Gustafson and Karen Hartlove, creators and co-directors of the fledgling camp, are obviously thrilled to see their plans of the last two years realized on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

And their nine busy campers, who lob water balloons at one another and grouse about morning "chicken fat" exercises, are smiling, too. For these children there is the fun of spending a week at a sleep-over camp, canoeing and hiking, swimming and singing and, perhaps best of all, not feeling different.

Though most of the Ken-Do campers didn't know each other when they arrived last Sunday at the house in Rocky Point Park, they all knew Ms. Borshay, Ms. Gustafson and Ms. Hartlove, who are recreational therapists at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. The children have been patients at the institute.

The women said the weeklong camp was the first time anyone in this area -- perhaps anyone anywhere -- has arranged a camp for children with head injuries. And, it's the first time many of the campers, ages 9 to 15, have stayed away from home since their accidents, said Ms. Gustafson.

The camp is operating on $2,300 the women raised through bake sales, raffles and a donation from the institute. The Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks contributed use of the house and the services of two counselors. Some of the campers are paying to attend; most are not.

"We're basically surviving on a very limited budget" and a lot of donations, said Ms. Gustafson.

The injuries have left the youngsters with varying social, emotional and learning deficiencies that make it hard for them "to fit into a normal camp," said Ms. Gustafson. Some have behavioral problems and lapses in short-term memory; others have trouble getting along with friends and siblings. Because most of the campers do not have serious physical disabilities, they are out of place at camps designed for children with such problems.

"We realize these kids have trouble fitting in," said Ms. Gustafson. "We wanted to let these kids have the same experiences that their peers are having."

Indeed, that's what's happening. Outwardly, little distinguishes Camp Ken-Do from any summer camp. There is a full-time nurse, and six counselors for the nine campers, a ratio that is probably higher than at most camps. The activities aren't restricted and there's certainly no lack of enthusiasm.

"It's fun here. Swimming is best," said Tiffanie Fairley, 15, of Baltimore. "I like all the games and the prizes we can win. We made S'mores," she said, referring to traditional camp concoctions of toasted marshmallow between chocolate bars and graham crackers. "We didn't go to bed till about 12 o'clock. We had fun."

The staff hopes the experience gives the campers some social and recreational skills to use every day, and perhaps in other camps next summer.

Camp Ken-do is pitched in a two-story, county-owned house on the grounds of Rocky Point Park. Once a private home, the house has been used for meetings, but has not been occupied for many years, said Ms. Hartlove.

Early one morning as campers and counselors got the day going, the large kitchen bustled with activity. Some campers looked for Danish, while others thought it time for Doritos. There's been little homesickness, as the five boys and four girls got acquainted quickly, said Ms. Gustafson.

"We're sort of like a sorority house -- with a lot of kids," she said.

In a large grassy area overlooking the bay, Ms. Borshay, the self-appointed activities director, whistled the staff and campers into shape. First, it was exercises; then relays.

The women hope to have another camp, and even expand to several sessions. They also are content with what has happened this week. As she watched the campers play in the yard, Ms. Gustafson remembered, "Most of these kids came to us [at the institute] in wheelchairs, on stretchers . . . in comas."

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