By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The excitement of summer camp is no longer off limits to local children with special needs, thanks to J.D. McCarty Center’s upcoming Camp ClapHans.
Archery, horseback riding, arts and crafts, canoeing, fishing, yoga, hiking, swimming and s’mores are all on the agenda during the inaugural six weeklong residential camps for children ages 8 to 16 with developmental disabilities beginning June 9 and ending July 26.
“You know what our goal is? We want our kids with special needs to be able to experience all the joys of camp that other kids their age get to experience,” said Sharla Bardin, J.D. McCarty Center public information manager. “But we also look at it, too, as another way to help the kids learn a new skill and meet other kids and really just be willing to try something new that they didn’t think they could do.”
Campers and their families got a peek into the camping fun during an open house Saturday at the camp, located on the south side of the center’s property in Norman at 2002 E. Robinson St.
The camp is an outreach project of the center and features two cabins and an activities building next to an 11-acre lake. Sixty-eight campers currently are registered.
Each session has its own theme like “Heart of the Wild” or “Beat of a Different Drum” and focuses on a different disability such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, physical disabilities, autism, intellectual disabilities, feeding disorders and sensory issues.
Bardin said all campers have a staff buddy with them at all times to ensure the children feel safe and comfortable. A full-time nurse, registered dietitian, physician and J.D. McCarty Center’s therapists and psychologists are all on-hand to ensure well-being.
“We just want families to know when their kids are here, they’re going to be safe,” Bardin said. “They’re going to have a great time.”
Greg Nelson, an Edmond resident in attendance at the open house with his 12-year-old daughter, Emily, said Emily is excited to attend the first week of camp June 9-14. Though he’s a little nervous, Nelson said he hopes Emily learns some valuable lessons.
“Some independence,” Nelson said. “Right now, she has a tendency to try and get us to do everything for her. I think this will be good for her for learning accountability and responsibility.”
As for Emily, she has no fears. On her mind: bunk beds, movie night, new friends and archery.
For many campers, Bardin said camp will be an opportunity to gain important life experiences.
“If a kid is willing to get in the canoe for the first time — if they’re willing to try that, who knows what they’ll be willing to try beyond that? So it’s kind of just building confidence, too,” she said. “And for the families it gives them a chance to send their child to a place and know their child is going to be taken care of and know that they’re having fun.”
The idea for the camp developed in 1995 when J.D. McCarty Center officials discussed options on how to reach more children with disabilities in the summer months when they are out of school and not receiving therapeutic services, Bardin said. Officials broke ground on the camp October 2008.
The camp is named in honor of the late Sammy Jack Claphan, a former University of Oklahoma football player and alumna with a special education degree. Claphan later played in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns and the San Diego Chargers. After retiring from the NFL, he returned to Oklahoma and became a special education teacher. He died in 2001.
The center is a state agency and a specialized pediatric rehab hospital for children from birth to age 21. The center provides medical care and physical, occupational, speech and language therapy for children on an inpatient and outpatient basis.
Twelve remaining spots for girl campers still are available. Camp registration ends Friday. The cost to attend one of the six weeklong camps in June and July is $325. Scholarships are available. To register, call 307-2814 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Camp ClapHans, visit campclaphans.com. For more on J.D. McCarty Center, visit jdmc.org.