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The Suburbanite
  • Rotary Camp, YMCA band together for kids with disabilities

  • By all accounts, Dan Reynolds has a dream job. He and his family live year-round at Akron Rotary Camp, the Rex Lake facility that has been creating special programs since 1924 for people with physical and mental disabilities.

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  • By all accounts, Dan Reynolds has a dream job. He and his family live year-round at Akron Rotary Camp, the Rex Lake facility that has been creating special programs since 1924 for people with physical and mental disabilities.
    “There are no words to describe how camp has impacted my life, but this is so much more than a job, it’s a mission,” said Reynolds, the camp’s executive director. “It’s a great way of life.”
    Reynolds said the camp, which has been managed by the Akron Area YMCA since 1995, began as a camp for kids with polio but now serves both kids and adults with a variety of disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and ADHD.
    “Obviously we don’t see children with polio anymore, but we serve children with a variety of physical and mental disabilities,” he said.
    The camp has three main programs: week-long overnight camps and day camps that operate during the summer months and twice-monthly respite weekends for families during the school year.
    Reynolds said the programs focus on traditional camp activities, such as arts and crafts, sports and games and, of course, swimming and canoeing.
    “It’s through these acts that we’re building self esteem, independence, self-care skills and social skills,” Reynolds said. “We’re giving them something that they can take with them for the rest of their lives.”
    Reynolds said he and camp staff have been preparing for the summer months by making updates to the facility including new cabins equipped with air conditioning and incandescent lighting, meant to ease the environment for campers with sensory processing disorders, which cause them to have heightened senses toward
    body temperature, sound and lighting.
    “When we designed these cabins, we took a lot of time to meet the needs of today’s kids,” Reynolds said.
    The camp also helps to debut a new health lodge and rec hall this summer.
    Akron Rotary Camp is funded and operated through a variety of sources, said Doreen Vanchoff, director of marketing communications for the Akron Area YMCA.
    “The Akron Rotary Camp was founded in 1924 by members of the Rotary Club of Akron and still is their primary service project,” Vanchoff said. “Rotary Camp is operated by the Akron Area YMCA, which provides services, programs and staff. It's a unique collaboration committed to providing families with special needs a variety of resources, opportunities and year-round camp programs where abilities shine.”
    Vanchoff said Rotary Camp is the YMCA’s primary hub for people with special needs, but the organization will work with families on an individual basis to provide programs such as swim lessons or child care to find a good fit for a child with a physical or mental disability.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We ask families and caregivers to pay for camp if they can,” Reynolds said, noting that a week of overnight camp costs about $525. “If they can’t afford it, at the end of the day we’re not going to let money stand in the way. We help with scholarship programs, and many of our kids have funding sources through the Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board or their school districts.”
    Vanchoff said the camp is governed by a board of passionate volunteers. Reynolds said counselors come from far and wide to work at the camp each summer, including places as far as Europe and Australia, though the camp relies on area staffers as well.
    Reynolds said for him, working with the campers is the most rewarding part of his job.
    “These kids struggle every day,” he said. “They have a hard time making friends at school, they have no one to sit with at lunch, and when they come to Rotary Camp, it doesn’t matter what their label is or how they walk. They’re kids first. And they just get to be kids and be who they are and make real friends and enjoy life.”
    For more information on Akron Rotary Club, visit www.akronymca.org/rotarycamp.