Affordable camp for Illinois children

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For many children, camp is a rite of summer passage. Summer isn’t quite complete without the outdoors, swimming, new friends and a week away from family. However, for many children summer camp is a distant dream, something their parents could never afford.

It isn’t a small feat to send a child to camp. They need clothes, shoes, sleeping bags, bug spray, swimming suits, toiletries, and much more. Include camp fees and multiply that by several children and you’ve got a pretty hefty price tag for just one week away at summer camp.

That’s where Camp Care-A-Lot comes in. It offers children ages of 6 to 10 from no to low-income families a chance to experience what so many children do every summer – at absolutely no cost.

“We wanted to do something for the kids in the community,” Eydee Schultz, a founding member, said of the camp’s origination in 1993. “There were kids falling through the cracks in school, in organizations, that had no opportunity to get that camp life.”

Camp Care-A-Lot provides everything the campers may need for the week. The camp takes donations year round to ensure all their campers don’t have to spend the week worrying about what they don’t have.

“Some kids come with nothing,” said Diana Wasem, camp director. However, material possessions aren’t the only or most important thing Camp Care-A-Lot provides the children of Central Illinois.

“We provide positive attention, positive words and lots of hugs,” Wasem explained. They also have guest speakers everyday to teach the children about anger management, conflict resolution and healthy living.

Carissa Brownback, the camp’s executive director, said that it is sometimes hard to tell if the camp is making a difference in its campers’ lives but she saw the positive influence they made last year.

“We had a guest speaker on anger management and this one little boy picked up on it. ‘This is what so-and-so is going through and this is how I can help him,’” Brownback said. “It was so neat to see that he took that information from the guest speaker to use in his life.”

Unfortunately, the camp can only help a limited number of children each year and even fewer little boys because of a lack of male counselors.

“We could fill up a camp,” Schultz said of all the children Camp Care-A-Lot could host each year if they had enough counselors.

There are a few requirements for being a camp counselor. They have to be at least 19 years old, pass a background check and provide references.

“You have to have a positive outlook, want to be a positive role model,” Brownback said. “We’re almost like a cheerleader. We offer support and encouragement.”

Schultz also put emphasis on making the campers feel important and loved.

“We try to provide tools to see that they are worthwhile and what they say matters. Everybody matters and counts,” Schultz said.

For those skeptical that a week away at summer camp can make that much of a difference in a child’s life, just look at the past campers.

“They may not remember my name but they remember Camp Care-A-Lot because it meant something to them,” Brownback said. She explained that she ran into a former camper who is now 15. “She still has the picture from camp hanging on her wall.”

It is even more evident when you examine the amount of former campers who volunteer as assistant counselors and full-time counselors.

“The oldest camper our first year, called the second he turned 16,” Schultz said. Over the years, more and more former campers have stepped up to help the camp that helped them. A few years ago there were only six full time volunteers who hadn’t attended Camp Care-A-Lot as a child.

Now, there’s even a group of former campers who volunteer throughout the year. For many, the minute they were selected to attend the camp they became family. In fact, on the first day of camp, campers are greeted with a hug and the saying “Welcome to the family.”

“At the age of 6 to 10, they don’t really remember the details but they remember the feelings,” Wasem said.

As a former camper myself, I remember the love, support and sense of belonging Camp Care-A-Lot and its volunteers gave me. To this day, the camp and Eydee Schultz continues to share in my successes and help to pick me up after my failures.

“I promised. If they ever need me, I promised I would be there for them,” Schultz said. “And these kids are too important to me to break my promise.”

For more information on volunteering as a counselor or just for a day, email Brownback at campcarealot2@gmail.com. They will begin taking counselor applications for the June 20-24, 2014 session in January.

If you or someone you know is a former camper, please contact Schultz at carelot3@aol.com or call 217- 546-4777. There are scholarship and volunteer opportunities.

Last year depleted the camp’s supplies. They are taking donations in the form of money or items from the following wish list:

Towels and Washcloths (used or new, must be washed) 

Sheets and pillowcases (used or new, must be washed) 

Large Bottles of Shampoo 

Large Bottles of Body Wash

Pillows (new) 

Markers

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