Camp Hand-in-Hand starts next Monday July 18th, and to celebrate the 17th year of camp, we wanted to share some memories of that very first camp experience from Vinnie Smith, one of the co-founders of Hand-in-Hand:
"Seventeen summers ago, we had this simple dream: make a one-week camp happen for children with special needs and their families. At that time, we did not have a theme for our camp, we just referred to it as “Camp Can Do”. We gathered a team of friends, teachers and many family members to join us in this endeavor. Forty campers came to camp that first year.
We planned a week of structure and fun for the kids. In the early years, we were based on the upper area of camp and the campers participated in horseback riding at the stables. There was a young foal recently born and a large camp pig for the kids to enjoy. One day, Mark’s sister Paula had the kids painting a horse with their hand prints. It was uncharted work for us and we took our clues from the kids who were with us that first year.
Camp Abe Lincoln had an old pool at the time which was just a rectangular box where the water heated did not work. It was freezing cold for all the volunteers, but our campers did not appear phased by it. The pool was not handicap assessable and it required a lot of creativity and teamwork to get many kids into the pool.
Our craft tent was a huge center of the day and Mrs. B lead us in all sorts of creative adventures that first week. What surprised us the most was despite the new camp activities we exposed the kids to, their favorite appeared to be the camp store with its candy each day! That is how we learned that Colleen Corbin (Ma'am, as she's known at Hand-in-Hand) had great potential to be a store manager, a role she would continue in for years to come.
We also offered our campers and their families a “Hoe Down Picnic” and celebrated the campers with t-shirts. We had no idea how meaningful it was to have your child called up, celebrated and receive their “T-shirt of Honor”- a tradition which continues each year.
I will never forget sending off the campers on Friday, waving good-bye and seeing the tearful faces our kids looking out the bus windows experiencing tears of joy ourselves. We stood there as the bus rolled out, drained of all energy and emotion knowing we had accomplished our dream and it was just the beginning of what we wanted to create for children and families. For days and weeks, it was all Mark and I spoke about. We were inspired by the families who appreciated a week of respite and the stories of children who came home from happy and exhausted, but smiling and asking when they would go back to camp Hand-in-Hand."