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Summer camp for children and young adults with disabilities faces staff, funding shortage

Camper and staff celebrate at a carnival night at Camp Haccamo.
Camp Haccamo
Camper and staff celebrate at a carnival night at Camp Haccamo.

A summer camp for people with disabilities is facing a critical shortage of staff and funding.

Camp Haccamo is still reeling from the pandemic, even as some experts are calling for wider inclusion in outdoor recreation.

“It has been extremely difficult, more difficult than I wouldn't even have imagined, because of COVID,” said the executive director, Dolly Kujawa.

The camp is required to have one staff member for every two campers. If it continues to lose funding and staffing, fewer people will have access to life-affirming opportunities outdoors, she said.

“We can actually put a quadriplegic, wheelchair bound camper on the zipline, we have a climbing wall, we have a tree house. I mean, there's just so many activities that they can do: swimming, boating, fishing, and they're all kept safe by our staff.”

Chuck Krause’s son Michael, 35, attended the camp for 17 years. Krause said the opportunity for his son to make friends also meant a respite for him and his wife.

“It brought him out a bit more ‘cause he’s pretty quiet for the most part,” Krause said. “It’s just an experience that you just don’t get any other way that I know of.

The camp was founded in the mid-1950s, a few years after a similar camp started in New York state called Camp Jened.

Jened later became known as a catalyst for helping spark a disability rights movement through community-building opportunities that the camp provided. The camp ultimately closed in 2009.

According to a 2019 study in the Disability and Health Journal, accessible outdoor recreation provides psychological and social health benefits.

Researchers propose policy changes “to support integrated community programs or accessible public transports to allow full participation of people with disabilities, thereby increasing their social inclusion.”

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.