GREENVILLE — During a month in Michigan where temperatures have smashed record highs during various heat waves, there could no more appropriate of a theme for a presentation for campers at camp Wah-Wah-Tay-See than that of the Ice Age.
On Thursday afternoon, as much needed rain that finally fell onto the dry campground forced campers to gather inside, archaeologist Mike Stafford and geologist and paleontologist John Zawiskie put on their ninth annual educational performance for the special needs campers.
Using fossils, bones and other artifacts dating back thousands of years, the scientific duo put on a demonstration that not only entertained but educated campers as well.
For camper Elisabeth Heilbronn, now in her 14th year at the camp, the one-hour presentation was one of the many highlights of her camp experience.
“You can’t get me away from this camp,” she said with a laugh at the conclusion of Stafford and Zawiskie’s presentation. “I loved everything they showed me. I’ve seen these things on animal shows before but it was so much fun to be able to touch everything.”
Stafford and Zawiskie, who work at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, bring their talents to the camp every year with a presentation centered around a theme for the camp.
This year it was the Ice Age, and appropriately so, the two scientists brought in actual samples of mastodon teeth, bones, tusks and Paleo-Indian tools, among other things.
“I don’t know who enjoys doing this more, the campers or us,” Stafford said. “We feel a powerful connection to what Wah-Wah-Tay-See does, with the adult audience in particular. Both of us are real drawn to working with mentally challenged adults.”
Zawiskie said the presentation was meant to be fun, but also to “mix both learning and laughing together.”
With a set of false teeth, broken glasses and a stained white lab coat, Zawiskie took on the role of his alter ego, Dr. Julius Kelp, a clumsy scientist who entertained campers with his zany antics.
“I base it on the nutty professor,” he said. “The campers here seem to really enjoy it. We just want to give them a good time and everybody needs someone to laugh at.”
According to Camp Director Michelle Converse, the four-week camp provides campers, who consists of special needs and at-risk children and adults, an opportunity to enjoy a week in nature away from home.
“If we can make things fun and teach the campers things as well, then we’ve done our job,” she said. “The best way to sneak in education is to find a way to do it when they don’t even know they’re learning but you’re still enjoying yourself.”
Each camper stays from Monday through Friday at the overnight camp where they are able to participate in activities such as arts and crafts, canoeing, sports and archery.
“We’ve got a lot of campers who have been coming here for more than 10 years,” Converse said. “For many of them, it’s the highlight of their summer.”
For camper Kandie Cole, in her second year of the camp, the camp was without question her personal highlight of the summer.
“My favorite part about everything in this camp is the nature,” she said. “I don’t get the change to be out in nature like this very much. I can’t wait to come back next year.”