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Camp Ability gives special needs children an experience of a lifetime

By Paul Viau | Apr 10, 2013
Photo by: Donated HAPPY CAMPERS  — Camp Ability gives special needs children a life-changing experience.

If you are a regular reader of my column, you know that I am a proud member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s organization dedicated to acts of charity.

The Knights of Columbus makes a special effort to support L.A.M.B. — an acronym for the “Least Among My Brothers.”

Did you know? — The name of this ministry is taken from the Biblical reference of Mathew 25: 35-40, which concludes with “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the least of my brothers, you did it to me.”

This is God’s friendly reminder (via parable) that we should treat those who might have less of his blessings — with more of our own efforts and resources.

Fittingly, one of the L.A.M.B. charities supported by both Knights of Columbus Councils here in Haywood County is — Camp Ability.

Simply stated, Camp Ability is a summer day camp for children with special needs — focusing on those who are physically and cognitively impaired.

Camp Ability was founded in 2009 by Diane Gayer, CCP/SLP (speech and language therapist) together with long-time friend, Deb Chamberlain, COTA (certified occupational therapist assistant.)

The two realized that special needs children in Haywood County didn’t have anything “special” to do during the summer. They needed both a time and a place to practice skills developed during the school year — Time to interact with other children, work on life skills, motor skills, and learn socialization. Moreover, their families needed respite.

So in the summer of 2009, Gayer and Chamberlain gathered a couple of boxes of supplies, together with a scant $200, and launched Camp Ability.

Almost immediately their ministry was blessed when New Covenant Church in Clyde opened the doors to their educational wing. That first year, Camp Ability also found support from Youth for Christ’s Outdoor Mission Camp in Cataloochee.

The influx of youthful enthusiasm was wonderful, and Diane Gayer reflects, “The interaction between campers and youthful staff was wonderful to watch.”

In this day and age, it’s hard to imagine teenagers giving up 2-3 weeks of their summer to work with special needs children. But those who answer the call are richly rewarded.

Many of the youth on staff have responded to Camp Ability, by saying “This camp has changed my life. I want to go into service.”

Gayer is not surprised — “They know when they are part of something so valuable.”

Camp Ability has evolved to focus on campers interacting one-on-one with teenagers. Adults run the group programs, games and craft activities. The goal is for special needs children to experience camp just like other kids.

This summer Camp Ability has found a new home at Lake Junaluska Assembly, with its beautiful lakeside setting, lush gardens, and access to music facilities — all in a fully handicap-accessible building.

The Camp Ability program for 2013 will be two Monday through Friday day camp sessions — July 8-12, and July 15-19.  Each session will have a one-night sleepover.

Camp Ability is available to physically and cognitively impaired children, ages 6 to 18, from throughout the WNC region. It is not limited to residents of Haywood County.

The fee for Camp Ability (strictly donations) is $40 per session and scholarships are available.

Camp Ability is looking for counselors, teachers, and musicians to assist with games, music and art classes, and is also in need of a sign language interpreter. Camp Ability also welcomes groups (especially Christian) to come onboard and help out with the program.

As Camp Director Diane Gayer so eloquently says, “Camp Ability is a Christian Camp celebrating children, who are the lambs of God.”

If you would like to volunteer or make a donation to help fund Camp Ability, contact Diane Gayer at 235-8853, or via email at dgayer@carolinapeds.com. Donations can also be mailed to Camp Ability, P.O. Box 1249. Waynesville, NC, 28786.

Finally, be on the lookout for Knights of Columbus this summer during their L.A.M.B drives at Waynesville’s International, Church Street, and Apple Festivals. Your generous donations will help great Christian causes like Camp Ability.

Perhaps my brother Knight, Chris Amsler, says it best. "God is inclusive, so please help. We're not in the business of turning kids away."

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