HOUSTON — From fishing to swimming, making s’mores and riding horses to staying overnight at a campgrounds. Sounds like a typical camping experience.
For 12 Shelby County youth, that was what they experienced during Camp Dalanda. The camp, which was held July 6-9 at the Buckeye Christian Service Camp, Houston, offers a unique experience to children with disabilities. Assisting each camper was a volunteer for the week.
“This is the fourth year for the camp,” said Kendra Hamaker, Shelby County Arc executive director. “It was started in 2013 and is named after Dalanda Roddy, who passed away in 2009.
The camp, which is geared toward middle school students, was the creation of Cheryl Clark and Jane Hixon, two multi-handicapped teachers.
“Dalanda was one of our students at Sidney Middle School,” said Clark. “She was in the seventh-grade six years ago when she passed away unexpectedly.
“We wanted to create a memorial in her honor, but we didn’t want to just plant a tree,” said Clark.
When talking with their students about Dalanda’s death and funeral, the teachers began to wonder how many “real life” experiences the students have had. With the parents’s permission, the teachers took the students to the funeral. During class, they talked about what a funeral is, how they should dress and what the purple flags on the cars mean.
“The kids did phenomenal,” said Clark. “They were so respectful and so sincere. The parents were so pleased we took them to the funeral.”
And thus arose the question about “real life” experiences.
“We began to wonder how many real life experiences the kids had missed,” said Clark. “Had they ever been fishing? Had they ever been swimming? Had they ever been to a camp?”
Clark said they might have experienced some of these events, but they were with their parents or other family members. Have they ever had the experience of staying overnight somewhere without their parents, the two teachers wondered.
“Jane began researching camps and found one in southern Ohio that was 3 1/2 hours away,” said Clark. “She and four girls from her youth group at church volunteered at it. She came back from came and said ‘we need to start a camp.’
“We kept talking about it for 1 1/2 years,” said Clark. “We sat at lunch one day and said we just need to do this.”
The teachers contacted Shelby County Arc to ask if they could go under their umbrella so they would have a 501 3c status.
“We wrote a proposal and asked if we could be put on their agenda for a meeting,” said Clark. “We did a presentation for them and we were peppered with questions.”
From that first discussion, both the teachers and the Arc board had homework to do to see if a camp was a viable option for local students.
“Jane and I toured three or four facilities in the area. One would be nice but it wasn’t handicapped accessible. My church had a program here (Buckeye Church Service Camp) and I knew the place would be perfect for the camp.”
The teachers then contacted Dan Roberts, camp director, about holding a camp at the facility.
“I thought this is it,” said Clark. “After hashing out the charges, he gave us a really good deal. The second week of August was the only time available for the first camp.”
Hixon and Clark decided to “just do it” and got the camp organized in six months.
“After the first year, Dan came to us and said he was so impressed with the program and volunteers. He and his family gave up their family vacation week so we can have the camp in July each year.”
Roberts said the camp “is fantastic.”
“I was looking for different ways to reach out to the community that we were here,” said Roberts. “We wanted to turn this into a year-round facility.
“The attitudes of the helpers and the positive attitudes of the campers is great,” said Roberts. The Deaf Institute of Cincinnati also brings its children to camp for a week at the facility.
Clark said information from the other camp in southern Ohio was used to help design the program for Shelby County.
“We took the information and tweaked it from the other camp and made it our own,” said Clark. “We decided to hold it for middle school kid range and offer it for them only.”
While they were setting up the camp, the two teachers mulled over what its name should be. After much discussion, they decided on Camp Dalanda. The teachers asked Dalanda’s parents, Barb and Scott Roddy, if they could name the camp after their daughter. The answer was a simple “yes.”
“The camp is keeping her life alive through this,” said Barb Roddy on the second day of camp this year. “She was an exceptional person. She would have loved this camp. She loved adventures. We were honored when they asked to have it (camp) in her name.”
The Roddy family volunteers at the camp each year and helps with fundraisers. Their daughter, Elyse Roddy, is an Ohio Highway Patrol trooper stationed at the Hamilton Post. She raised money for the camp at her post and also volunteers at the camp. Dalanda’s grandma, Dolly Ragle, also helps at the camp.
At the first camp, the teachers asked the 10 campers how many had ever ridden in a paddle boat. The answer was none. How many had been fishing? Two of the campers answered yes. All the campers had eaten s’mores, but none of them had ever toasted a marshmallow.
And none of them had ever slept away from home without a family member or relative.
Fast forward to 2016 and there were 12 campers and volunteers who attended the camp. Eight of the campers were returnees while four of them were attending their first camp.
The volunteers were from Sidney, Fort Loramie, Tremont, Tipp City, Troy and North Carolina.
Nate Bosway, of Sidney, has volunteered at the camp for three years. He learned about the program while he was a student at Lehman Catholic High School and the two teachers attended the school’s opportunity day with information about the camp.
“They are just like normal kids,” said Bosway. “The first thing we learned is don’t baby talk them. They understand what we’re saying even if they can’t talk back. They are all very intelligent.”
Bosway, who graduated in the spring from Lehman, will be attending Miami University in the fall where he’s enrolled in the biology/pre-veterinarian program.
For Peyton Jones, of Sidney, working with the children reinforces her decision to become a nurse. This is the third year she has been a volunteer at the camp. She learned about the program during a student government meeting at Sidney High School.
“I really like to help people,” said Jones. “It sounded like a lot of fun.
“This is the most rewarding thing I do every summer. I look forward to it every year,” said Jones, who is attending the University of Toledo. “I’ve known I wanted to be a nurse since my junior year of high school and my goal is to be a flight nurse in the Air Force.
“I work as an STNA and that has shown me insight into the elderly people. Coming here has given me insight into children with disabilities.”
For Makenzie Ranley, who just completed her sophomore year at Fort Loramie High School, the camp was a new experience for her. She learned about the camp while she was attending a Special Olympics event and decided to volunteer.
“I love little kids and I like working with kids with autism and disabilities,” said Ranley, who plans to attend Upper Valley Career Center’s early childhood program.
“I love to see the kids faces and how excited they are about doing the activities,” said Ranley.
The volunteers come to the camp a day before the campers for training. On July 6, the campers arrived in the afternoon and they, along with their parents, toured the campgrounds.
The campers and volunteers enjoyed supper and then painted T-shirts with the theme of the camp, “Hawaiian Luau.” A campfire was built and they made s’mores by the fire.
“There are air conditioned cabins for the campers and volunteers,” said Clark. “The campers and a paid RA sleep in one area and the volunteers in another area. We are busy from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.”
Some of the activities this year included crafts, playing on a 100-foot slip and slide, swimming, riding horses, learning from a professional chef who talked about Hawaiian food and watching a movie. They also decorated their camper bags and cabins, made team flags, sang songs and had a dance which was DJ’d by Tony Brown. All alumni campers are invited to the dance.
A registered nurse is among the paid staff members, said Clark.
“Almost every volunteer came back for the second year,” she said. “Some of the volunteers have been here all four years. Some are in college and they still come back. Others have asked their friends to help.”
Clark said they look for “the cream of the crop” with their volunteers.
“They are responsible for getting their camper up each day. They help them get dressed if they need it. If the camper isn’t toilet trained, they help with that. The volunteer takes the camper to the nurse at medication time. They have a lot of responsibilities,” said Clark.
The camp is open to all middle school age students Shelby County with a disability. Hamaker tries to make camp enrollment consist of 50 percent Sidney City Schools students and 50 percent from the county schools. The cost for the camper is $50 if they are a member of Shelby County Arc; $75 for nonmembers.
“We try to take the more severe MH student first,” said Clark. “We make sure they are not medically fragile. They have to stay with the group so we can’t have any runners. Most of the campers this year have autism and down syndrome.”
The Shelby County United Way assisted with the program by providing special funds for the program. After the first year, the United Way made a commitment to fund the camp as long as there is a camp.
“I’m glad the participants get to stay here in Shelby County for camp and experience this overnight setting,” said Scott Barr, United Way executive director.
Shelby County Arc, said Hamaker, is a United Way agency. Funds from the camp are received by Arc from the United Way.
“The United Way funding covers about half of our expenses,” said Clark. “We do fundraisers to raise the rest of the money.”
Anyone who would like to donate to Camp Dalanda can send a donation to Shelby County Arc, in care of Camp Dalanda, 1200 Children’s Home Road, Sidney, OH 45365. Checks should be made payable to Shelby County Arc with Camp Dalanda written in the memo line.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.