For three days and possibly for the first time in their lives, the around-the-clock care that their loved ones require would be provided by strangers, many of them teenagers.
Camp COOL (Children Overcoming Obstacles through Love) was organized for children and young adults with cerebral palsy or spina bifida.
Because of the special needs of the individuals involved, a total of 55 counselors and staff, including medical professionals, were on hand to assist the eight campers.
Still, some parents had a difficult time letting go.
“They were really apprehensive. They wanted to hang around and make sure the kids were going to be OK,” said organizer Brittney Henson.
The campers had no such reservations, however.
“One of our little boys said, ‘This is the best day of my life. I never want to leave.’ And he had been here an hour and a half. All of the kids adjusted so well and took up so easily with their counselors,” Henson said.
The campers’ schedule allowed little time for missing mom and dad.
Activities included swimming, crafts, games, a geography lesson and a talent show.
Henson said several counselors had expressed to her how they had been impacted by the campers’ love of learning and life.
“I think they (counselors) have been really impressed with the abilities that these kids have,” Henson said.
Henson and her family based the program on a special needs camp in Florida they became associated with through a cousin who has cerebral palsy.
Their church, Pumpkin Center Baptist, provided the initial support for Camp COOL before other volunteers came onboard.
“It was an amazing blessing to watch those kids get to be just one of the guys and one of the girls for a few minutes,” said church member Misty Morris, mother of one of the counselors.
Henson said the inaugural camp was more successful than she could have hoped for and she hopes it can become an annual event.
“We have a goal to work toward because our campers have said, ‘We’re coming back next year.’ If we can continue with the support we’ve had up to this point, it’s something that we’ll do every year,” Henson said.