Yearly in California, a whole lot of 1000’s of kids head off to summer season camps. They experience horses, sing songs, go swimming, roast marshmallows round campfires, sleep in cabins, meet new associates and kind reminiscences that final a lifetime. For generations, per week at in a single day camp has been a part of rising up.
However solely a handful of camps are arrange for youths with disabilities. Typically they’ll make a fair bigger distinction, boosting confidence and vanity.
Michael Griggs is aware of. He was an adolescent in a wheelchair, born with cerebral palsy. He was depressed. He felt aimless and sorry for himself when his household inspired him to go to Camp Harmon, a 40-acre camp within the Santa Cruz Mountains close to Boulder Creek that has served folks with disabilities since its founding in 1964.
The week within the redwoods modified his life.
“I used to be struggling to seek out my place on this planet. I believed ‘no one will miss me if I used to be gone,’” Griggs recalled. “However I went to camp and began listening to from all people, and sharing tales and simply being one of many guys. I noticed you simply need to carry on being you, and individuals who actually matter will stick round. It received’t be as a result of they really feel sorry for you or need to deal with you. Individuals will stick round due to who you’re. I began to seek out worth in who I used to be. It gave me confidence.”
Impressed, Griggs got here again summer season after summer season. He graduated from highschool, enrolled in school, grew to become pupil physique president, earned a level in paralegal research, and in the present day at age 35, works as a pupil providers aide at Los Angeles Mission School in Southern California, the place he helps new college students join courses.
“Day by day I really feel I’m residing out my objective,” he stated, “which is to assist folks.”
Now Camp Harmon, which has helped carry up so many individuals like Griggs, wants some assist of its personal.
The camp, which is run by the nonprofit group Easterseals Central California, had been offering outside training to about 600 youngsters and adults every year — campers with autism, a number of sclerosis, traumatic mind accidents, cerebral palsy and different circumstances.
Then the COVID pandemic hit.
The camp closed in 2020. Just a few months later, the CZU Lightning Complicated Fireplace roared by the Santa Cruz Mountains, burning a whole lot of houses and destroying different longtime beloved camp areas close to Large Basin Redwoods State Park like Little Basin, a household tenting retreat, and Camp Hammer, a Christian camp for kids.
The flames additionally threatened Camp Harmon. However firefighters stopped the advance with a bulldozer line on the sting of the property.
After the hearth, Camp Harmon’s insurance coverage prices elevated by 40%. COVID continued, forcing the camp to stay closed in 2021 and in 2022, partially as a result of lots of the campers have medical circumstances that make them particularly susceptible to the illness. The camp has elevated fundraising, operated a couple of small applications and tried to carry video meet-ups, however it has needed to lay off employees and continues to take a significant monetary hit with no income coming in from campers.
“It’s devastating,” stated Erica Ybarra, govt director of Easterseals Central California. “We really feel a big sense of accountability. There are so few campgrounds that provide this type of expertise. And there are even fewer after COVID and the fires.”
Easterseals is asking Want Guide supporters to supply $50,000 to assist Camp Harmon reopen this spring. The cash can be used for tree upkeep and different fireplace prevention efforts, a brand new roof on the animal barn, changing outdated fencing and indicators, new curriculum, and upgrades to sports activities services.
At Camp Harmon, all 13 in a single day cabins have wheelchair ramps. The paths are paved. There’s a swimming pool, a eating corridor, sports activities fields and a farm space with two miniature horses that campers stroll, together with a pair of goats named Oreo and Ginger, and 13 chickens. Camp T-shirts say “Fantastically completely different, not much less.” The camp has a large swing with a physique harness that enables campers to soar 50 ft over the San Lorenzo River, which meanders by the scenic redwood property.
“It’s wonderful,” Ybarra stated. “The campers come out of the pool or off the massive swing and they’re rock stars. They’ve a confidence they didn’t have once they got here. We simply educate them to imagine in themselves.”
Having the campers push their limits and help one another is necessary, she added.
“All our campers need is to really feel ‘quote-unquote common.’ When they’re at camp they really feel like they matter,” Ybarra stated. “When any person falls down, they are saying, ‘Come on buddy, wipe your knees, you’re good. Hold going.’”
The camp was born from generosity. Sixty years in the past, two aged sisters, Jessie and Mignon Harmon, charitably bought the land to Easterseals for $1.
The Harmons have been a part of a pioneer logging household. In 1867, Oscar and Austin Harmon, their father and uncle, got here to California from Maine. They have been solely 18 years outdated.
The brothers labored at a lumber mill close to Boulder Creek. Inside a couple of years, they constructed a toll street to Santa Clara County as a enterprise enterprise. The street, which in the present day is Bear Creek Highway, ran to the city of Lexington, a neighborhood that was finally torn down and submerged in 1952 when Lexington Reservoir was constructed close to Los Gatos. Austin died tragically in 1887 when a limb from a falling redwood tree hit him. Oscar died in 1899. However the household’s redwood holdings dwell on at Camp Harmon.
On a current weekend, Jim Castelli, 70, of Fremont, visited the camp to study he had been accredited to work subsequent season as a camp ambassador. Castelli, who was born with a developmental incapacity, had gone to the camp for about 10 years and was overjoyed he would now be serving to new campers once they arrive in 2023.
“I’ve met lots of people right here and made plenty of associates,” he stated.
Recommendation for the brand new campers?
“I just like the horses,” Castelli stated, laughing. “However let me inform you one thing. Don’t get behind them.”
THE WISH BOOK SERIES
Want Guide is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group operated by The Mercury Information. Since 1983, Want Guide has been producing a sequence of tales throughout the vacation season that spotlight the needs of these in want and invite readers to assist fulfill them.
Camp Harmon, which is run by the non-profit group Easterseals Central California, will use donations for tree upkeep and different fireplace prevention efforts, a brand new roof on the animal barn, changing outdated fencing and indicators, new curriculum, and upgrades to sports activities services.
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