TRURO – Barb Weatherbey smiles broadly while looking around at a small group of children wearing yellow T-shirts and picnicking in Victoria Park.
Unable to remain still, one boy takes the hand of a caretaker and the pair begins to dance and sing, other children clap and laugh while playing games and soaking in the mid-afternoon sun.
“They just love to play,” said Weatherbey, a volunteer with Parents Supporting Parents Society, which has fundraised for the past four years to host a unique program, Bright Skies Day Camp for children with special needs.
“It really is fun to watch them grow.”
She said some of the children have been attending the summer day camp since it was established in 2000. Many of the campers return each year and organizers, who also volunteer at the camp, are impressed with the children’s skills development each season such as speech, social interaction, concentration, cognitive and behaviour.
It hasn’t been easy to continue offering the camp, which operates with funds raised annually by the society.
Weatherbey said the camp’s future is “iffy” every year because it depends on the volunteer group’s ability to raise about $20,000 to host the one-of-a-kind camp. Parent co-pay fees account for about 20 per cent of the cost to host the camp.
This year there are about 24 campers, all part-time, under the care of seven staff. Based at St. Andrew’s United Church in downtown Truro, the camp offers children with special needs a chance to enjoy summer activities, similar to other day-camp programs but specifically designed to meet the needs of its participants.
“Oh, everything,” she said of the activities children participate in on a daily basis.
“They are very busy kids.”
Swimming, pottery, crafts, games, park visits and day excursions to local attractions were some of the things she listed.
Weatherbey said there are seven children enrolled who require one-on-one supervision based on their needs.
The camp recently received a welcome boost from the Rotary Club of Truro with members Jim Gould and Alana Hirtle joining the kids during an outing at Victoria Park bringing with them a $7,500 donation.
“It’s really exciting,” said Gould. “It’s great to see the kids in their camp. It makes it so much more real for us.”
He said the Rotary Club of Truro has a strong focus on assisting children and individuals with special needs, naming their strong partnership and support of the Colchester Community Workshop (Rotary House) and Maggie’s Place as two examples.
He said the group made a request for funds at Rotary $Ask, a one-day event held in the spring where community organizations and individuals made presentations and requests for funding.
“With the Bright Skies Day Camp, it was an easy decision for us, as we are assisting both children and those with special needs,” he said. “We feel it is important for the children to make friends, play with peers who share common life experiences and have the opportunity to attend summer camp.”
He added it is also a time for the children’s parents to have much-needed respite.
“It’s very fulfilling for us because most of us are parents,” he said. “It’s certainly a good cause.”
Beaming with joy at the guests handing over the donation cheque, Weatherbey said it was a huge jump-start on fundraising for 2015.
“We are 95 per cent sure we will run next year,” she said.
For more information about the camp or Parents Supporting Parents, Bright Skies Day camp, visit http://www.parentssupportingparents.ca/ or call 641-2020.
Who: Parents Supporting Parents Society
What: Provides families raising children with special needs an opportunity to meet, find support, seek resources and participate in recreational activities with other families facing the challenge of raising these special children. The group has hosted Bright Skies Day Camp for children with special needs for the past four years in Truro.
When: The society hosts monthly support group meetings for all parents and caregivers raising children with any special needs on the first Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. at the Sobeys Community Room (Walker Street location).