By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The second year of Camp ClapHans at the J.D. McCarty Center has officially kicked off, already checking in their second group of campers Sunday, with plenty of summer activities scheduled.
Camp ClapHans is a residential summer camp for children with disabilities ages 8 to 18 and is part of an outreach project of the J.D. McCarty Center for children with developmental disabilities.
Public information manager Sharla Bardin said it gives kids the chance to experience summer camp like other kids their age. This year’s theme is the “Wild West” and kids will get the opportunity to make cowboy hats and enjoy activities with representatives from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
Some of the activities the museum representatives provide include working with a lasso, meeting cowboys and playing a game with cowboy boots, said camp director Kyle Cottrell.
Yearly activities include archery, arts and crafts, canoeing, fishing, horseback riding, swimming and various water games. The grand finale includes taking the children on a field trip to Andy Alligator’s.
Some of the children who have physical disabilities especially enjoy the water slide. Cottrell said since it takes a lot of people to transfer a child in a wheel chair up to the top of the water slide, it’s a first-time experience for many of them.
Ginny Webb, a returning camper from Lexington, said the water park was her favorite thing. She was also able to go horseback riding for the first time last year.
There’s a lot of other first-time experiences the campers get to enjoy, which is what Cottrell said has been the coolest thing for him that has happened.
“It’s my first summer and it’s already been awesome,” he said.
The staff at Camp ClapHans is constantly making changes and adapting to the needs for each camper to make sure they get to participate in all of the activities.
“All the kiddos are so unique. You’ve really just gotta roll with the punches, adapt on the go. It’s that kind of thinking that makes this successful,” Cottrell said.
Sometimes it’s not all about the activities they get to participate in though. Returning camper Zach Wright of Edmond said the thing he enjoys the most is getting to be with everybody. Cottrell said he sees friendships develop in a very organic way when the children come together at the camp.
Amanda Gold, a unit leader at the camp this year, said one of the most rewarding things for her was seeing the changes in the children. She remembered a boy at the beginning of the week that was very shy and homesick, but by the end of the week he was beaming and talking with everyone, she said.
After Gold volunteered at the camp last year she said it changed her life. She was attending college not really knowing what she wanted to do and the experience inspired her to go into Special Education.
“They shine so bright,” Gold said. “They’re amazing kids and I’m just so glad I could meet them.”
After the first year, there were some changes made to shorten the length of time at the camp, which was five nights and six days. It is now four days and three nights. Cottrell said for many of the campers it is their first time away from home and they had difficulties with homesickness.
It also helps when many of the staff are volunteers and get a little more of a break since they are spending all day and night with the children. The camp will serve a total of 60 children this summer with 12 children (6 girls and 6 boys) attending the camp every week for five weeks.
For more information about Camp ClapHans visit campclaphans.com.
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