Organizations: Camp Twin Lakes
Until this camp began blazing trails, children with disabilities usually waited until the off-season at state parks to paddle a canoe, ride a horse, or shoot with a bow and arrow. Even then, though, much of the terrain was unsafe.
No Treehouse Off Limits: “Here, we adapt every activity to each child’s needs and motor skills in a completely accessible environment with doctors and nurses, so they get the whole camp experience just like other kids without compromising their medical care,” says Michelle Krebs, community relations manager for Camp Twin Lakes, which opened its 500-acre spread in Rutledge in 1993 and recently staked out another residential site, Will-A-Way, in Winder. “For example, the mini-golf clubs and archery sets have wrist attachments. If a child wants to do something fun, we’ll find a way to do it safely.”
A model for similar facilities around the country, the nonprofit provides its services, staff and scenic venue in a year-round collaboration with 48 “Camp Partners,” other organizations that care for children facing a variety of challenges, including cancer, muscular dystrophy, HIV/AIDS, arthritis, brain injuries, diabetes, and abusive backgrounds and behavioral disorders.
Land Of Plenty: Camp Twin Lakes, supported by fund-raisers, corporate sponsorships and foundation grants, covers about 80 percent of the costs for campers, so the children’s sponsoring organizations pay only a small fee for weeklong therapeutic adventures.
Every year, Camp Twin Lakes accommodates about 8,000 campers, who ride horses; swim, boat, and fish in the lakes; and romp through the petting zoo, the organic garden, and the radio station before winding down with campfire songs.
“The children that we’re serving are not ‘victims’ – they have the potential to be the strongest and best kids in Georgia; they just need a little help,” says Dan Mathews, the organization’s director of camping services. “For some of them, this is the first time they have the sustained companionship of other children experiencing some of the same challenges, as well as having a chance to share in the pure fun of trying new activities.”
Call Of The Wild: The “fun” part cannot be overemphasized. While the activities are designed to boost self-esteem, independence and physical coordination, they also serve as a breath of fresh, pine-scented air away from clinical environments, with the camp’s doctors and nurses usually sporting goofy costumes instead of lab coats.
“The kids will play. They will grow,” Mathews says, “and for this short period, a time they will remember their entire lives, they will be free to be children.”