By Don Gibbs
“Camp Wah-Wah-Tay-See will provide unique camp experiences for children and adults with special needs in a safe, caring and compassionate environment.”
So reads the mission statement for what is one of the things that makes Greenville such a unique community.
Founded in the 1960s by the Optimists on land donated to the city by the Tower family and now operated by EightCAP Inc., Camp Wah Wah Tay See has provided a summer camp experience for physically handicapped and cognitively impaired children and adults. Call it “a special camp for special people,” it offers the true camping experiences that everyone should enjoy in the great outdoors: swimming, archery, arts and crafts, canoeing, fishing and even singing around the campfire.
Camp is also a welcome time for families of campers. It is understood that caring for those with special needs is hard work and that the respite opportunity that camp brings to those families can “recharge” all of those involved. Campers are encouraged to be as independent as possible and staff emphasizes daily living skills such as appropriate socialization, personal hygiene and handling of daily chores.
Establishment of a routine is an important part of the overall camp experience.
Funding for camp is now tough to come by. In the past, grant funding was available through both state and federal programs. Those monies were supplemented by generous donations from United Way, the community and very modest tuition from the campers. However, when times get tough, those with no advocacy usually take the first hit and so it is with camp. Private and social agency funding is understandably down and government funds are nonexistent.
Quite frankly, Camp is in a tough spot this year. The board will continue to seek public funding and for the first time ever has implemented a rather significant tuition for campers. While they realize that this will be a hardship on families, it may be the only way to see camp open this year. They are hopeful to gain a position in the Greenville Area Foundation grant cycles in coming years, but this summer’s experience is in doubt.
There is no more heartwarming feeling than to drive by the north shore of Baldwin Lake on a late summer morning, roll down the car window and just listen to the sounds of truly happy campers banging about in canoes or claiming that every four-inch sunfish is indeed a “whopper.” Later in the evening, the smell of the campfire and the telling of the day’s tales is a fitting end to something that this group only gets to do once a year. You only need to do this to know that camp is worth saving.
Don Gibbs is a member of the Camp Wah-Wah-Tay-See board of directors.