CHIMACUM –– Just outside Chimacum is a camp that offers people with special needs a week filled with excitement and unique opportunities.
Last week, Camp Beausite NW, a nonprofit, finished the last of four one-week-long camps for the summer and organizers, who say they are seeing increasing demand, hope to expand the camp’s offerings in the future.
During the week, campers participate in relay contests, watermelon eating contests, visit Fort Worden, swim at the Mountain View Pool in Port Townsend, ride horses, play drums and practice archery, among other activities.
Seeing how much the campers enjoy these activities is one of the reasons Cheryl Smith, program director, is a part of Camp Beausite.
She described a moment with one of the campers swimming at the public pool in Port Townsend earlier this week as magical.
“She was able to kick and splash and laugh,” Smith said. “That sense of freedom that activity gave her for a few moments — just to be a part of that was magical for me.”
Another reason she helps is because her son has special needs.
Smith’s 19-year-old son is globally developmentally delayed and non-verbal.
“As a parent of a child with special needs myself, I know there is a big need for recreational and learning experiences for people with special needs — especially once they are out of school and in their young adult years,” she said.
Her son attended the camp this year and had a blast, she said.
“He got to enjoy things — because of our counselors and because of this agency — he wouldn’t have been able to enjoy otherwise,” Smith said.
“As a parent, I thank these counselors every night so they know how meaningful this is for parents and loved ones.”
For the campers, it’s an experience they always remember and look forward to each year, Smith said.
One camper, Thomas Skerbeck of Port Angeles, said the highlights for him last year were the barbecue, riding horses and painting leaves.
They painted them with “fancy colors like purple and gold,” he said. “Husky colors. We had a great time”
On Thursday, Skerbeck was one of many campers who rode horses. He said he had ridden twice before and was looking forward to riding again.
Members of the Buckhorn Range Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of Washington provided the horses and helped out.
Volunteers and counselors gave each of the campers the help they needed to get on the horses and go for rides around the camp.
About 20 campers attend each of the week-long camps and there are about as many counselors and staff to help out, Smith said.
There’s a counselor for every one or two of the campers to give them the special attention they need throughout the entire weekend.
Among them is Tiffany Malean, who teaches special education at Helen Haller Elementary School in Sequim.
This was her first year; she said she is definitely going back for another.
“I’ve learned more in the past month than in all of my schooling,” she said.
“More people should definitely be counselors. This is such an incredible experience.”
What moved her was seeing that everyone who was there was dedicated to helping the campers and everyone was having fun.
“You get all these inside jokes with all the campers,” she said. “It becomes one big family.”
That family is now looking to expand, said David Christensen, president of the Camp Beausite board.
While the camp now only focuses on the four one-week-long camps, Camp Beausite plans to expand into a year-long program and make improvements to the camp itself.
Part of that is building bunkhouses for campers in the coming year, which would then be available the following year.
“It’s community support that will enable that to happen,” Smith said.
Registration for this summer was $800 per camper.
The organization is funded through donations from individuals, groups, organizations, businesses; fundraising activities; camper fees; facility rentals; foundation grants; and support services from the Department of Health and Human Services for individual campers, who are eligible for coverage.
Camp Beausite was first started in 1989 by a Kiwanis Club in Sequim. In 1993 four more Kiwanis Clubs joined the group and incorporated the Northwest Kiwanis Camp.
The organization officially changed its name to Camp Beausite Northwest in 2011.
For more information about the camp, visit https://campbeausitenw.org/.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5550, or at [email protected]