Positive Experiences and Big Dreams For Camp Dream With Beverly and Clete Taylor

Editor’s Note: Most camps have qualifications for children to attend. However, the only exclusion at Camp Dream is that we can’t take children who may hurt themselves, their counselors or other children. Camp Dream has its doors wide open, especially to the children who can’t find a camping experience elsewhere. Initially all the children who came to Camp Dream were from Georgia, but this year we had one child from Florida and one child from California. They learned about Camp Dream from our website and Facebook page. Part 4 of a 4-part series.

Camp Dream takes all special needs children. Good catch!

Camp Dream takes all special needs children. Good catch!

Beverly: Joey from Florida was born with a paralyzed trachea, so he had a tracheal tube. No other camp would take him, because they were afraid he may choke. His parents called us and we said we’d love to have him. Abby, who came from California this year, is the only person in the world who has the disability called complete chromosome 5 duplication. She is twelve, but she looks like she is six. Her growth has been stunted, has some mental issues and she bruises very easily. Other camps saw her as a risk even though she looked and acted like every other child.

This is what Camp Dream is about – providing children with a valuable camp experience.

When the parents and the children arrive at Camp Dream, they spend an hour with the counselor. The parents have an opportunity to explain what the child’s needs are and how they communicate so the counselor can deal with the child’s physical and emotional needs. At the end of camp, the parents come to retrieve their child and spend another hour with the counselor hearing about the child’s experience and looking at photos.

For instance, a counselor taught one child to make his bed, pick up his clothes and put his lunch tray away. When the child’s mom came to pick him up, the counselor said, “Ok, go get your plate,” and the camper did. After lunch, he asked his mom if there was anything else she would like. The mom looked at the counselor and asked, “Is this my son?” Independence is one of the skills we help our campers learn. We have come to understand that most of these kids don’t need or want as much help as they get. I’m often asked, “How does someone qualify to come to Camp Dream?” My answer is, “Any child or young adult with any form of disability is welcome; we don’t judge campers by their physical ages but rather their mental ages. If a camper is 5-years old physically or mentally he’s welcome.”  

One thing that Camp Dream teaches the children is independence. This young lady doesn't even need help with bowling! You go girl!

One thing that Camp Dream teaches the children is independence. This young lady doesn't even need help with bowling! You go girl!

Our mission is to serve anyone who needs us, whether they have severe disabilities or mild problems. Most camps won’t take a child that can’t eat, bathe or go to the bathroom alone. However, we’ll take those children, because that’s really and truly what our mission is. We also have big dreams for Camp Dream in the future to make it better than it already is.

I’d like to see Camp Dream run all summer long and during fall break, Christmas break and spring break. These children deserve the opportunity to go to a camp and have the same experiences that other children have. There should be a place where children can look forward to an outdoor adventure during the spring and winter breaks, as well as the summer. This will be a place where they aren’t different. These children need to be around their peers with disabilities, so they understand that they aren’t different.

Camp Dream strives to make each child feel special and loved. This young lady has a look of determination as she checks to see if she made a strike!

Camp Dream strives to make each child feel special and loved. This young lady has a look of determination as she checks to see if she made a strike!

To fulfill this dream, we will need sponsorships and grants as well as involving foundations.  An army of volunteers wouldn’t hurt, but I believe it’s all doable. I don’t want to go through what we went through in 2010 when we didn’t have room for campers who wanted to come. To solve this immediate problem or blessing if it comes, we’ve scheduled four sessions this summer to serve 160 special needs children. We have doctors and nurses on staff, and the hospital in Warm Springs, Georgia, is close in case there is an emergency. This provides a sense of comfort for us, the children and the parents.

When I’m asked why I am involved with Camp Dream, the answer is very simple. I love the children who come to our camp. I am passionate about helping them and I love the families who bring the children. My daughter, Amber, has been my assistant for the past three years and helps me run the camp. She started working at Camp Dream when she was 13 and has worked every year since then. Now she is 25 and has a degree in business.  Next year she’ll be in charge of two sessions on her own. She will be there in case something happens to me–she’ll be able to carry on the mission of Camp Dream.

We have two more sessions in July. Our vision goes far beyond our present campus. There are many children in Georgia and surrounding states who need Camp Dream but don’t know we exist. Our mission is to find the special needs children who want to come to Camp Dream and find the resources to bring them here.

Another unique and special thing about Camp Dream is that anyone can volunteer. We’ve had counselors in wheelchairs before, and often our campers become counselors. One of my very first campers April, was in a wheelchair. She could move her arms but not her legs. After being a camper for a few years, she asked if she could be a junior counselor. Then we promoted her to become a counselor. She did that for six years before attending college.

Clete: We have a lot of really exciting challenges in our future for Camp Dream. We know that we only can have about 320 children each summer and then we’ll max out the facility where we are. We’re almost halfway there now and want to build an additional campground that we can own in the north metro Atlanta area. We’re currently assessing the situation, and all of our data seems to indicate that there’s a need for an extension of a year round Camp Dream in this area. We want to offer a summer, fall and spring camp, as well as daily recreational activities for special needs children.

The recreational activities at Camp Dream are just plain FUN! This young man agrees!

The recreational activities at Camp Dream are just plain FUN! This young man agrees!

When this new facility is built, we’ll still continue to run our program in Warm Springs. We will still offer camp for 320 children in southwest Georgia and serve 2000 special needs children at the Atlanta site. At Warm Springs, we only can handle 44 children in each session of camp. When we build a new facility near Atlanta, we plan to serve 80 campers with a high level of experience. We’re hoping to identify the land and acquire it in 2012, and possibly start construction in 2013. I really believe we can start within a year, even though we don’t have a dime in the bank. We won’t give up. We believe that in 2015 Camp Dream at Warm Springs will be at capacity, so we’d need another facility by the 2016 camping season. We’d love to have you as a part of our dream. If you have a soft spot for special needs children like we do, please contact us.

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

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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