You’ll Dance Even If You Cannot Stand At Camp Dream

Editor’s Note: Clete Taylor is a volunteer counselor at Camp Dream located in Warm Springs, Georgia. Each summer Clete donates his time to help disabled children experience life and joy despite their situations. Camp Dream accepts children and young adults as campers and adapts to their different disabilities and illnesses. The children always come first while their financial situations are secondary. These young people find a freedom at Camp Dream they’ve never experienced before and have amazing adventures they’ve only thought were dreams. Part 1 of a 4-part series.

Camp Dream--a special camp for special kids!

Camp Dream--a special camp for special kids!

Clete Taylor: Brandon was very excited, but he was afraid to go to camp because his mother wouldn’t be there. On the way to camp, Brandon asked, “Am I allowed to go fishing? Can I participate with everybody? Will I get to ride horses and go to the dance?”
 
I smiled at Brandon and said, “Yes, you’ll be able to do all of those things.” “I’ve never been allowed to do any of those things before, and my mom didn’t send any money with me,” Brandon said.
 
Once again, I turned to Brandon and told him, “You don’t need any money to do those things at Camp Dream. Your expenses are covered, so all you need to bring is your clothes, your toothbrush, and a smile.”

Brandon, an 11 year-old camper with Spina Bifida attended Camp Dream last year. He has always required help from his mother and father with every aspect of his life. Brandon is permanently in a wheelchair, so he hasn’t had much independence. His mother doesn’t have a car and is on welfare, so they depend on a welfare worker for little things like trips to the grocery store. This is a stressful situation for Brandon’s family, so anything that alleviates this stress for little or no money is much appreciated.

One of the advantages that Camp Dream provides for the parents of the campers is time to relax and de-stress. It takes a lot of time and energy to care for a disabled person, so this down time from caregiving is necessary—it is very healthy to take breaks from time to time. They will pick up their children from camp feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to continue with the responsibilities with a better attitude. The parents or caregivers who are struggling financially may never have the chance to take breaks, so this is a great opportunity and experience for them.

Brandon's mother had no need to worry--Camp Dream offered enthusiastic counselors, like Ben, to be with the kids at all times. Brandon tells us that he is at peace!

Brandon's mother had no need to worry--Camp Dream offered enthusiastic counselors, like Ben, to be with the kids at all times.

One of the policies of Camp Dream is that the parents have to bring their children to the camp. However, when Brandon was approved to come to Camp Dream, we discovered that his mother didn’t have a car or the money to rent a car. The last thing we wanted to do was turn someone away, so we made an exception for Brandon. I drove to his home to pick him up the morning camp started.

 Brandon’s house was extremely dilapidated. There were no sidewalks and the steps going into the house were broken. The house had no ramp for Brandon’s wheelchair to get in and out of the house. I could tell that Brandon and his mother had never been apart for an extended period of time.

“Is someone going to care for Brandon the whole time he is at camp?” his mother asked. I smiled and replied, “Yes, we have staff counselors, and Brandon will have his own counselor with him the whole time he is at Camp Dream.”

Every day at home, Brandon’s decisions are made for him from the time he wakes up until he goes to sleep at night. Not only are his decisions made for him, but there is always someone who helps him around the house and when he is out. At Camp Dream, Brandon can go bowling, fishing, horseback riding and swimming—he will be more in control of his life than he ever has. He plays all kinds of games and rough houses with the other boys.

One of the biggest accomplishments for Brandon is sliding down a water slide because he’s allowed to do it by himself. When he’s on the slide, he’s totally free from his wheelchair, his caregivers and his disability. This is what Camp Dream is about—disabled children have total control of their own bodies. They can decide what they want to do and don’t want to do, choices that most of us make every day.

One of the activities that the children seem to love is dancing. I have discovered that many special needs children are uncomfortable if they go to a school dance because everyone will stare at them. However, at Camp Dream, we’re there to help these children dance, whether a counselor holds them and dances with them, we move their wheelchairs, or we roll their gurneys so they can dance!

Brandon’s counselor was named Ben, and there was an instant bond between them. Ben introduced Brandon to a wide array of new activities that Brandon never thought he could do. Ben helped him mount and ride a horse, go swimming, do arts and crafts, and simply be with other children who had special needs like his and some with different needs. The other children treated Brandon just like he was another playmate. For once, Brandon was treated as though he were like everyone else.

When the time came to go home, Brandon made sure he stayed as far away from me as he could. If Brandon saw me walking straight toward him, he’d start talking to someone. He was doing everything he could not to go home, not because he didn’t want to go home, but because he didn’t want to leave camp. When Brandon and Ben said goodbye, there were big boy tears.

Ben, a Camp Dream counselor bonds with 11 year-old Brandon who battles Spina Bifida.

Ben, a Camp Dream counselor, bonds with 11 year-old Brandon who battles Spina Bifida.

When I finally got Brandon in the car, and we were driving through the camp on the way home, Brandon was crying softly. On the way home, I asked Brandon if he’d like to get something to drink, and he replied, “Yes, sir, that would be nice.” So, we stopped, and I bought him a coke and a candy bar.

But when I handed Brandon the coke and candy bar, he didn’t open either one. I looked at him and said, “Brandon, I thought you said you wanted a coke and a candy bar.” He answered, “Yes, sir, I did, but do you mind if I wait till I get home to open them, so I can share them with my mom.”

Once we got home, I stopped outside his house and wheeled him up to the broken steps. Brandon began to sob. He held on to me with big tears in his eyes, and yes, I had big tears in my eyes too. Brandon said, “I don’t want it to be over yet.”

Brandon had an amazing time fishing, playing games and just being a kid at summer camp!

Brandon had an amazing time fishing, playing games and just being a kid at summer camp!

This is a common reaction that we see very often when we take children home after a session at Camp Dream. These children have never been to camp, rarely get to make decisions for themselves and never have a chance to slide down a water slide or dance usually due to lack of finances or medical conditions. We take the children to Camp Dream that cannot attend regular camps and never reject a child because of a medical, financial, or transportation situation like Brandon’s.

Click here to learn more about Camp Dream, and see the amazing work of the volunteers who serve a higher purpose.

Next: A Marriage of Husband And Wife With One Dream Of Volunteering

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com

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2 Responses to You’ll Dance Even If You Cannot Stand At Camp Dream

  1. Camp Dream is an awesome place…my son Scottie has went there for years & has always had an amazing time & now he is old enough to be a counselor. Thank you Camp Dream for always taking care of all those wonderful kids.

  2. Mary Ann Ethridge says:

    This sounds like an awesome camp. My daughter has Down Syndrome and I have never heard of this place. She is not physically challenged really but has other medical problems. Would like to know more about this camp. She has been to day camps a few years ago and loved it and her sister was with her also. Hannah and her sister Haley would enjoy this. Haley would probably enjoy being a counselor so would love some information and dates.

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