Whether they were rowing on picturesque Chautauqua Lake, rocking out to the music of Elvis Presley at the big dance or singing songs around a roaring campfire, rest assured everyone associated with The Resource Center who attended, planned or visited Camp Onyahsa this year had a blast.
"For a lot of them, it's their vacation for the year," said Kevin Anderson, supervisor for TRC's apartments on Benedict Avenue in Jamestown, who served as co-chair for this year's camp experience. "There's a lot of camaraderie between the campers, and it's just a different environment."
"It enables a group of people to come out and have a wonderful experience that they normally wouldn't have," said Nancy Ingram, assistant executive director at TRC. "They see old friends and make new ones."
From left, camper Erin Mikula, counselor Bruce Main and camper William Prince enjoy a pedal boat ride.
About 70 people with disabilities took part in the fourth annual fun-filled week at Camp Onyahsa, off Route 430 in Dewittville. A handful of campers just went for the day, while a majority stayed overnight.
A recreation grant from the NYSARC Inc. Trust made it possible for The Resource Center to conduct the annual week at camp.
"The money was important and helpful to us, because it helped to offset the cost of having 50 residents at camp," said Ms. Ingram. "Although residents have staff attached to them, there are considerable extra costs involved. We rent the entire camp; we pay 10 Onyahsa staff; we have extra staffing in terms of numbers, overtime and mileage; food for all the staff; pontoon boat rental; and a bunch of supplies have to be purchased."
While the majority of the campers who stayed all week live in TRC homes, nine were individuals who live on their own or with families. They were supported by scholarships from the Jamestown Noon Rotary Club, which covered the cost of counselors hired through New Vision Services to oversee the nine community campers.
"If it weren't for the scholarships from Rotary, these folks would not be able to go to camp," said Jane Young, supervisor for TRC's Jamestown Rehabilitation Program, who served as one of four counselors for the community campers. "These folks now have the same opportunities as the others in residential programs."
The Chautauqua Region Community Foundation administers the Wendy Sharpe/Jamestown Rotary Handicapped Camp Fund, which financially enables the campers who live on their own or with family to take part. Some Rotarians got to experience a bit of the experience firsthand, as they paid the campers a visit on the last night for a sing-along and bonfire.
"Rotary is a service club, and we're always looking for ways to support our local community," said Bill Tucker, Jamestown Noon Rotary Club president. "And to see people singing and dancing on the last night was just an incredible experience."
"Some of these people have never left home, and now they can leave home, provide a respite for their family and experience camp," said Sue Jones, immediate past president of the Jamestown Noon Rotary Club. "It gives them a chance to see what's on the outside."
And what they saw and experienced was a week of playing basketball and volleyball, doing arts and crafts, as well as swimming, fishing and canoeing.
"I enjoy it, and you get to get away from home and have fun," said William Prince, one of the campers. "I liked the pontoon boat. I made a tie-dye shirt. It's a fun thing to do, and you get to know each other."
"It's such fun. We went swimming and boating and made tie-dye shirts," said camper Stacy Langheinrich.
"We got to watch a movie, too, and dance," added camper Peggy Higley.
"It's a nice change from the day-to-day routine," said Ms. Ingram. "It's a great partnership with the camp in that we provide the support the individuals need, and they provide the experienced camp staff to run the programs."
That experienced staff is led by Jon O'Brian, YMCA camp director, who has provided weeks of special programming at Camp Onyahsa for years.
"It's a great collaboration, and it meets our mutual missions. Camp week helps us meet our mission to serve individuals from a variety of backgrounds and abilities," said O'Brian. "To see the joy it brings to these campers is well worth it."
"We make sure they have fun and a smile on their face," said Alyssa Reid, a Camp Onyahsa counselor. "It's like a vacation for them, and we want to make sure they have a good time."
"The TRC staff and the camp staff was phenomenal, and we appreciate the support," added Anderson. "The 2012 Camp Committee would like to express their sincere thanks to all the staff that worked so hard to make this year's camping experience such a success. The joy that this experience provides for the people that we serve is priceless."
While the NYSARC and Rotary grants help with the expense of sending dozens of people to Camp Onyahsa, they do not come close to covering the whole cost. To make a donation to help make it possible for a person with a disability to attend camp, visit resourcecenter.org or phone 661-4735.