Camp for special needs fighting to save accreditation

(Source: WGCL)

Camp Dream is a place where people of all ages with special needs can feel accepted.

"That's what we focus on, get them our of the mindset that they're disabled," says Foundation President JR Clark.

For more than 20 years the non-profit has provided a traditional summer camp experience for those with physical and mental disabilities, no matter how severe.

Alyssa Zerges sent both her sons, Brantley who has autism and AJ who has a progressive genetic disorder, to the camp last year.

"He had the time of his life and the minute we picked him up he rant to the care and he was like 'Mom I want to go again next week," she says of Brantley.

The two are signed up to go again in July, but now the camp is in jeopardy because the state says it's not accredited.

Executive Director Gary Marshall says the state approached them in February, which he says is not enough time to get accredited, certainly not before camp in July.

"If we ran camp there for 22 years successfully, why all of a sudden did it change this year?" he asks. "According to ACA it's on average a 12 to 18 month process," he says.

Despite the setback, Marshall says Camp Dream is taking the necessary steps.

"Yes, we are going through the accreditation process and yes we are even according to ACA 100 percent in compliance with the accreditation process."

Because they won't be accredited before July, the state won't allows the camp to be held at the Roosevelt Institute, leaving campers with nowhere to go.

"It's hurting the children," says Zerges.

Sean Casey, the Executive Director of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, sent CBS46 the following:After accreditation problems created possible issues for a camp for young people with disabilities, an option is now on the table that could send campers to an American Camp Association (ACA) accredited, fully ADA accessible venue in Winder. Camp Dream is held annually at Roosevelt Warm Springs (RWS). However, its lack of ACA accreditation was raised as a recent concern.

But late this afternoon, the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA), which oversees RWS, was pleased to find a partner dedicated to helping send around 128 students to a new venue, in collaboration with Camp Dream.

Said GVRA Executive Director Sean Casey, “It’s always been about the kids. ACA Accreditation is so important, because it mandates standards like an appropriate staff to camper ratio, access to first aid, and full time availability of emergency transportation. We want the students to enjoy a safe, fun, summer, and we want to approach every decision like we would on behalf of our own kids.”

The new facility offers a one-to-one staff-to-camper ratio.

GVRA has reached out to Camp Dream’s Executive Director, and talks are ongoing as the offer is considered.

Camp Dream has responded with the following: While the Camp Dream Foundation (CDF) appreciates Georgia Volational Rehabilitation Agency's (GVRA) proposed solution, unfortunately it would exclude all Camp Dream adult campers. CDF is committed to host summer camp for 100% of its 200 registered campers this summer at Roosevelt Warm Springs (RWS). The June 5th GVRA proposal does not allow Camp Dream programming and staff involvement. As GVRA likely understands, familiarity, consistency and routine are critical to many campers with special needs.

At GVRA's request, Camp Dream has partnered with an ACA accredited disability-specific summer camp program, who can help ensure the safety of its campers and staff at the current RWS location it has called home for more than 20 years.

CDF humbly requests that GVRA honors the July 2018 summer camp dates in order to continue the Camp Dream program. Furthermore, this alternative solution would allow CDF to finalize the accreditation process that is required to continue long-term use of the RWS summer camp facility. Camp Dream remains 100% compliant with the ACA accreditation process.Copyright 2018 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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