Camp Kidz is an eight-week summer camp for youth aged 7 to 21 with some sort of disability, physical or developmental. Daily activities range from art projects to water fights to shooting hoops.
Bradley Melton sat flipping through Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards Monday morning.
Meanwhile, a group of children sat on the floor watching “Monsters Inc.,” others played a quick game of baseball outside and a few constructed small buildings out of Legos. Melton, a 17-year-old Galesburg High School student, and 32 other area children with disabilities began the second week of Camp Kidz on Monday.
Operated by Bridgeway, the Knox County Council for Developmental Disabilities and Warren Achievement Center, Camp Kidz is an eight-week summer camp for youth aged 7 to 21 with some sort of disability, physical or developmental. Daily activities range from art projects to water fights to shooting hoops.
Each Thursday, the campers are taken on a field trip. Popular trips include going to the Orpheum for a movie, making personal pizzas at Happy Joe’s and taking a trip to Discovery Depot Children’s Museum. The Knox County Fair also opens once each year especially for Camp Kidz, and they are allowed on the rides free of charge.
“The whole idea is for the campers to have fun and do anything that a person without special needs would be able to do,” said third-year camp director Megan Armstrong.
She and a team of 17 counselors — usually either attendants from local schools or area college students with an interest in special education — work to give each child as traditional a summer camp experience as possible.
Many campers enjoy the experience so much that they come in while still in elementary school and remain with the program until they either graduate high school or are too old at 21.
Melton said he has been coming to Camp Kidz for about seven years, and he likes the ability to pursue his interests in his own time.
“Last year, I made hundreds of drawings,” he said, and a favorite subject for those drawings are his beloved Yu-Gi-Oh cards. Golf is another of his interests, and his favorite field trip was to Happy Land USA in Sandburg Mall.
Outside, 13-year-old Lauren Morath paused a baseball game to talk about the camp she’s been attending for two years.
“I get to hang out with friends,” the Monmouth-Roseville Junior High School student said, her bright blue sun dress billowing in the light wind. There aren’t a whole lot of M-RJHS students at Camp Kidz, she said, but “I just met people here (and) I have a friend that I keep in touch with.”
Eleven-year-old Brenden McCoy, a soon-to-be Churchill Junior High School student, rode around on a scooter in the gym, clinging onto a doll he had brought from home.
“They help us,” he said of the counselors, which he called his favorite part of camp. “I (also) like the food.”
While the goal of Camp Kidz is to allow the children to have a tailor-made summer camp experience, the men and women who work with the campers for eight weeks find it’s one of the most rewarding experiences during their summer vacations. Laura Gluba, a 20-year-old Monmouth College senior from Woodhull, is a first-time counselor who says she’s learned some valuable lessons in just one week.
“I’ve learned so much in a week,” said the physical education major who plans to work with the physically and mentally disabled after graduation. “Every day you learn something new and you come across experiences you wouldn’t come across in everyday life.
“My favorite part is watching them smile. You can’t learn this inside a classroom; you have to live it. This is the one job that I’ve ever had that I actually look forward to coming to work.”
Since Camp Kidz draws students from several different school districts, Armstrong said the campers form friendships with other children they may not have had contact with otherwise. They also grow attached to the counselors, often asking about people who no longer work for the camp.
“The kids have a hard time with saying goodbye,” she explained. “We know the feeling when they come back and a counselor’s not here. We feel the same when we come here and a camper’s not here.
“Just to walk in (every day) and see their excitement and to see they’re sad when it’s time to leave. To see them smile — that’s what they’re here for.”