Camp Serves Children with Disabilities Throughout Texas

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: September 25, 2011

A vision that began as part of a self-directed study at Texas A&M University by Sterling Leija '03 has now served more than 550 children with disabilities throughout Texas.

Leija's vision, Camp LIFE, a fully supported camp for children with disabilities, is now in its seventh year of operation. This Friday, another set of eager campers will embark on a fun-filled weekend at Camp LIFE.

Held twice a year at the barrier free facilities of Camp For All in Burton, Texas, Camp LIFE provides recreation for children with disabilities and their siblings. An acronym for Leadership, Independence and Friends through Experiences, the name identifies what kids will gain while at camp. Campers become leaders, they gain great strides in independence, develop true friendships and have experiences they might not otherwise have had.

At Camp LIFE, campers are given the choice to participate in every activity you would see at any other camp. Campers can experience horseback riding, fishing, archery, the zip line and rope course activities, as well as a petting zoo, canoeing, dancing and even karaoke.

The camp is staffed primarily with counselors who are pre-service special education students at Texas A&M. These students have the rare opportunity to experience a weekend of supporting children like those they will one day teach.

A one-to-one counselor to camper ratio ensures that each camper with a disability receives the support he or she needs to fully participate in all activities. Additionally, sibling campers enjoy an extra dose of attention not always available to them when their parents are understandably busy caring for their child who has special needs.

Amy Sharp, director of the Family Support Network, an outreach program based at Texas A&M that assists families who have children with disabilities, worked with Leija and Camp For All to make Camp LIFE a reality.

"Our goal is three-fold: We want to provide recreation for kids, respite for families and a hands on positive training experience for our pre-service teachers," said Sharp. Amber Nortman, a junior special education major, will make her third appearance at Camp LIFE as a counselor this weekend.

"I love Camp LIFE because it gives kids who normally might not have the opportunity to enjoy normal and fun 'camp' activities a chance to," said Nortman. "The environment is completely inclusive, so you never have to worry about them not being able to do something or feeling different than their peers."

This welcoming environment and the highly individualized attention each child receives during their stay keeps many campers coming back year after year.

After all, at Camp LIFE, children with disabilities get the chance to just be ... kids.

About the Family Support Network: The Family Support Network (FSN) at Texas A&M University is a resource center for families in the Brazos Valley who have children with disabilities and who come together to learn about disability issues and share information. FSN's goal is to help families obtain the information, support and skills needed to make informed decisions. FSN is a project of the Center for Disability and Development at Texas A&M.