At Camp Hoot, counselors' and campers' big hearts are benefit to all


Mike Roland is huge. He's 6-feet-5 and weighs about two pounds less than Rhode Island.

Peggie Roland is tiny. She's 5 feet even when she stands up straight, and she weighs an ounce or two more than a hummingbird.

But this isn't a column about Mike and Peggie, or even about their contrasting sizes. This is a column about the size of their hearts and about the size of the hearts of some of the people Mike and Peggie love.

Six years ago, Peggie started Camp Hoot. She had many helpers: Mike, the Special Populations Rec Council (now the Therapeutic Rec Council), the staff at Hashawa Environmental Education Center and dozens of volunteers.

Camp Hoot offers what Peggie describes as "fun, busy, traditional" residential camping for about a week each summer at Hashawa.

The first year, Camp Hoot had nine campers. This year, it has 45 campers. It's starting to grow like the federal deficit.

While the program may be traditional, the campers are not. Each of the 45 is challenged -- physically, emotionally and intellectually. Four are in wheelchairs. One is blind. Two are hearing impaired. Several have Down's syndrome, or muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy.

Camp Hoot gives these young people a chance for residential camping they could otherwise not experience.

Thirteen assistant counselors and nine counselors, many of them volunteers, work with the campers. My annual visit to Camp Hoot last Thursday left me wondering who has more fun -- the campers or the counselors.

I had learned my lesson about lying on the ground during skits involving buckets of water at the camp last year. This year a different bozo got drenched.

Aside from involuntary bathing, Camp Hoot campers enjoy eating -- everyone's favorite, I gather -- hiking, swimming, singing, crow calling, crafts, baseball, basketball and hugging.

"I get encouraged and energized by their spirit," said one volunteer counselor.

The campers, not to be outdone in the heart department by Little Peggie and Large Mike, are undaunted by challenges thrown their way.

Nurse Linda and Naturalist Donna assisted in leading songs Thursday night. Both did so with enormous energy. The campers sang accordingly.

The nurse and the naturalist get their reward from the looks on the faces of Camp Hoot's campers, they say.

Says Peggie, "I feel good."

Thanks to Peggie and Mike and a crowd of dedicated volunteers, so do 45 campers.

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