GREENVILLE — A local camp underwent changes recently, including a new name and a new director with the focus of making sure campers have a fun experience.
Optimist Camp, formerly known as Camp Wah Wah Tay See, is dedicated to creating a place for campers with special needs to go and have a fun experience, according to Dan Petersen, vice president for community action services at EightCAP Inc. The summer camp is offered to adults and children with disabilities.
“It’s a local treasure,” said Petersen of the camp. “It provides kids with disabilities an opportunity to recreate and socialize in the summer.”
The camp, which began in 1967, underwent the name change last fall to give back to the Optimist Club that has helped the camp continue over the years.
“They are the foundation of the camp,” Petersen said.
Petersen explained the camp is operable strictly through community donations such as the ones that come from the Optimist Club. Club workers have poured their “blood, sweat and tears” into the camp to make sure it stays operating, including volunteering numerous hours.
“If it wasn’t for the (community involvement), there wouldn’t be a camp,” Petersen said.
The city of Greenville owns the camp and EightCAP Inc. leases the buildings for the Optimist Camp program while acting as the fiduciary. The camp is an overnight camp — with some day sessions — that offers rustic camping, fishing, archery, canoeing and much more to the campers who stay.
Petersen said there are four overnight sessions in which campers arrive Monday evening and stay through Friday morning.
“There are not a lot of opportunities for (people with disabilities) to do this,” he said.
There is no federal or state programing that supports Optimist Camp and funding has been very difficult over the years. Last year, Petersen said the board seriously considered not having the camp because funding was sparse. Because of this, it lead to a severe hike in the cost for the campers to attend. Usually, the cost is only $20 per camper, but last year, it was raised to $250 per camper, which affected the number of campers who came. However, each camper is only asked to pay a $20 registration fee to attend camp.
“The goal this year is to fill the sessions,” Petersen said.
Each year, the camp only operates off about $62,000, which has to cover training, personnel, counselors, food and supplies.
“It is getting tougher and tougher to run the camp,” Petersen noted.
This year, he said, organizations like United Way and the Greenville Area Community Foundation helped to make the camp possible.
“They were saviors for us this year,” Petersen said.
The program is moving forward to continue to provide a fun atmosphere for the campers, which includes a new director, JoLynn Todd. She will be graduating from Central Michigan University in May with a bachelor’s degree in education with a concentration in special education.
Petersen said Todd was chosen as director because of her dedication, background in the field, positive attitude and understanding the needs of people with disabilities.
“I am looking forward to a new camping experience with the old traditions,” said Todd, noting that she was a counselor at the camp for two years. “I fell in love with the camp and the campers.”
Todd said her main focus in her first year as director is making sure everything goes smoothly and helping the camp move forward.
“I want to see the camp strive,” she said.
Campers can register up until the week before each session, however, it is on first come, first serve basis with each session only being able to accommodate about 45 campers.
For more information, or to find an application, visit www.optimistcamp.org online.