BARKER – Camp Happiness was founded eight years ago, creating the first day camp serving Niagara County residents with developmental disabilities, ages 12 to 90.
Fifty campers participated in the first year, and this year, 150 are registered.
This year’s camp will be held Monday through Friday at YMCA Camp Kenan, 8571 Lower Lake Road.
“Some come every day, but others come just two or three days, because they have other things going on,” said Fred Kanehl, a member of Lockport Elks Lodge No. 41 and one of the camp’s founders.
“We decided to cap it at 150 this year, and we’ll see how we do and maybe increase it next year,” he said. “We’ve added a third lunch period because we’re not only feeding campers, but we’ve got 130 staff and volunteers, too.”
The Lockport Elks work in concert with the Lockport Family YMCA at Camp Kenan and Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara County to provide the service. It started with a $10,000 community grant from the Elks National Foundation, a grant that the Lockport chapter has been successful in obtaining in seven of the last eight years. The camp also received a $10,000 donation this year from Howell Motors in Wrights Corners, the largest local business donation in the camp’s history.
Kanehl said it cost $28,000 to conduct the camp last year and, with increased attendance, the total is expected to be about $40,000 this year.
“We’re covered this year, but next year will be a challenge,” he said. “We’re just trying to meet the needs of the campers.”
The cost to campers is $10 for one day, with a maximum fee of $25 for the entire week, which includes transportation, lunch, a camp T-shirt and all activities. Activities include swimming in the pool, water sports in Lake Ontario, kickball, basketball, dancing, races, indoor and outdoor rock wall climbing, crafts, a horticulture seminar, bell-ringing seminar, archery and campfires. There is wheelchair accessibility. When there is enough interest, overnight camping is sometimes offered.
“These campers will challenge themselves here,” Kanehl said. “Their parents will be amazed at what they can do. Everyone chants and cheers each other on. Even the staff and volunteers join in and we’ve all got tears in our eyes to see what the campers can do.”
Staffing is provided by Opportunities Unlimited, YMCA Camp Kenan, Niagara Cerebral Palsy and the Lockport Elks, with a ratio of nearly one-to-one this year. In addition, about 40 members of the Elks from the Lockport and Twin Cities lodges will work as volunteers, along with friends and family.
Niagara Cerebral Palsy is providing 30 campers from its association for the first time this year.
The Rosie Smith Scholarship Fund has been established to help campers who can’t afford the fee. Applications for next year’s camp become available after Jan. 1. For information, visit: camphappiness.org.