By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Excitement filled the hot afternoon air on Sunday as families began dropping their children off for a unique summer camp experience.
Camp ClapHans, an outreach project of the J.D. McCarty Center, has been in the works for some time now but Sunday, volunteers and staff were finally able to kick off the summer with their very first campers.
The camp is for children ages eight to 16 with developmental disabilities. Greg Gaston, director of marketing at the J.D. McCarty Center, said it is the first and only summer camp in the state that he is aware of that was specifically designed and built for children with disabilities.
Gaston said the concept for the camp began as late as 1995. The camp area was built entirely by donated funds and in 2008 they were finally able to break ground.
The concept came about when the staff was trying to think of innovative, fun and creative ways for children to continue their therapy through the summer.
“Many of the children would plateau or regress over the summer,” Gaston said. “This should help them keep that (therapy) up.”
Vicki Kuestersteffen, director and CEO of the McCarty center, said for many of the children, it will be their first summer camp experience. She said a lot of the parents have been thanking them for making the opportunity available for their kids.
“A lot of the parents never felt comfortable taking their children to a regular summer camp but they feel comfortable bringing them here,” Kuestersteffen said.
Gaston said he believes part of that has to do with the McCarty Center’s great reputation.
“I truly can’t imagine a better camping experience for any child with any social or mental disability,” said Sheryl Edwards as she was dropping off her granddaughter Athena Scroggins.
“I think she (Athena) is going to grow and learn a lot this week,” Edwards said.
Parents were given the option to write in a comment box about what they hope the camp provides for their children and many of them said they just want their kid to have fun, meet friends and do something social, Kuestersteffen said.
Parents Phil and Sharon Inzinga and big sister Maggie dropped off 9-year-old Max on Sunday for the camp and said, “he couldn’t get rid of us fast enough.”
“He’s never been away from the family before,” Sharon said. “But it will be great for him to be around kids who are just like him.”
The family said Max’s two biggest fears attending the camp were getting dunked and accidentally committing “kidslaughter” if he shoots someone during archery activities, they said laughing.
Each of the campers have been assigned a “camp buddy” to help them through their week of summer camp. The camp buddies are a mixture of volunteers and also college interns who are studying to work in areas related to pediatrics and special education, Gaston said.
A lot of hospital staff from the center is also very involved with the summer camp, Kuestersteffen said. Everyone from hospital dietitians to hospital and nursing staff is working to make Camp ClapHans a success for the kids.
The camp area currently includes two cabins, one for boys and one for girls as well as a multi-purpose building where meals will be served or where activities will be held in case of rainy weather, Gaston said.
The whole camp area includes 80 acres of land with an 11-acre lake “chunked full of fish”, he said. “The kids should have good success,” he said of the fishing activities they will be doing.
In addition to fishing, activities will include horseback riding, canoeing, astronomy, yoga, archery, evening camp fires and outdoor movie nights.
“The thing that really separates us from traditional summer camps is that all of the activities are adaptable to the child’s abilities,” Gaston said.
There will also be a flag raising and lowering at the beginning and end of each day.
Gaston also said they have a bigger vision for the camp that will include up to six more cabins, a headquarters building, a cabin for volunteers to hang out in and a permanent mess hall.
“It’s going to be a pretty big camp when it’s all said and done,” he said.
The camp will focus on different disabilities each week including those with a diagnosis of ADHD, those with a physical disability, those who use alternative methods to communicate, those diagnosed with autism or intellectual disabilities, those with sensory issues and those with feeding disorders and aversions.
According to the Camp ClapHans website, the camp’s namesake is named in honor of the late Sammy Jack Claphan, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and an Oklahoma native.
The website said Claphan played football at the University of Oklahoma and graduated with a degree in special education. He 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.
For more information visit www.campclaphans.com.