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Summer camp for children with disabilities to open in June

Youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities will enjoy a dream come true this summer, courtesy of a local business owner who funded a needs-specific Beaufort County summer camp.

Before the pandemic changed everyone’s lives, local business owner Rachel Gardner attended a benefit called “Arc With A Spark” and became inspired by the mission of The Arc of Beaufort County, which has served youth and teens with autism and other special needs for more than 40 years. Gardner immediately told Arc board chairman Tracy Warren that she’d help with the next fundraiser, but COVID-19 made her wait until she learned of the group’s dreams to create a summer camp.

“We’d talked about it for years, but sometimes you’ve got to keep the doors open before you can do other stuff,” Warren said this week.

New board member Serena Current lit that spark again this year when she offered her expertise as a special needs educator to make the summer camp idea a reality. Gardner, who owns Urgent Care Down East in the Washington Square Mall, said “yes” when she learned of the opportunity, and donated $7,500 to meet projected expenses.

The camp will be held at First Christian Church in Washington. Six one-week sessions between June 14 and July 29 are open to Beaufort County middle and high school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Prior participation with Arc is not required. The camps are free and run from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Transportation will be provided cost-free for students who are unable to get there any other way. Campers who receive food assistance at school will have the same at camp, where other participants will bring their own lunches three days, and receive a special Arc lunch on Thursdays.

Current, who teaches in the exceptional children program at Washington High School, is camp director, and bubbles over when she describes this summer’s offerings.

“Each week has a different theme – outer space, camping, nature, princes and princesses, oceans, and pirates – so if campers come more than once, they won’t have to repeat what they just did,” she said.

Activities will include art, music, several physical activities, and crafts tailored to each week’s theme.

“We’re going to do ‘high tea’ for Royalty Week and a scavenger walk for Nature Week,” Current said, adding that she’s saving the rest of those details for her campers.

Participation is limited to 10 campers per week. Camps can be attended more than once, but preference will be given to first-time registrants. “We want to give everyone the opportunity to attend. If we have first-timers who haven’t had a chance yet, then campers who registered for more than one week will be notified,” Current said.

Parents may register their campers on line at campbeaufortarc@outlook.com and contact Sandra Buckman, Arc Executive Director, at 252-945-4414 if they have questions about the program.

“We are already talking about doing something in the fall,” Buckman said, “and hoping that this will develop into something very beneficial for our community.”