Stepping Stones’ Camp Allyn is a hidden treasure in Batavia. It is set back off the road, nestled among trees, small ponds and trails. During the summer months, the location especially comes alive as it is host to day camp for children with disabilities.
Peggy Kreimer, communications and grants director at Stepping Stones, said the 46-acre location, owned by the Rotary Club of Cincinnati, has been there since the 1970s. Originally, it was used as a recreation camp for people suffering from Polio, and now it hosts almost 40 campers a day.
The camp features fishing ponds, a swimming pool, walking trails, a playground, an amphitheater, a maze and more, all designed to be accessible to any child, whether they are in a wheelchair or have full mobility.
“I think recreation is great for socialization,” Kara Klepp, day camp director, said. “And just to do activities every kid likes to do.”
It took Klepp just one summer working at a camp for disabled children for her to change her major in college and focus on working with disabled children and adults.
“I had so much fun,” Klepp said about her first camp. “I felt like my life had a lot more meaning. I wanted to help people, especially those with disabilities.”
Klepp, who constantly has an eye on all the campers scurrying around, creates schedules and organizes daily activities for the day camps. She knows every camper’s name and can tell you about his or her disability and personality.
“They’re just like regular kids,” Klepp said. “The same orneriness and the same arguments.”
She’s right. The campers, all mingling at lunch time trying to find something fun to do, are all unique. Some are playing with a parachute, some are on the swings and some are playing pretend.
The campers at Stepping Stones have a variety of disabilities including down syndrome, autism, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy and more. Children without disabilities are also among the campers.
Day camp sessions are nearly every week from June to August. Regardless of what the camper’s age or challenge is, staff members find ways make sure every camper is included and is accomplishing something each day of camp.
“Everything they take home is something they did,” Kreimer said. “You can just feel that pride.”
Kreimer said projects at camp are broken down into steps and staff members will have the campers contribute even if they can’t finish the whole project by themselves.
Shane Daniel focused on completing one of these projects at camp June 30. Daniel created a headband out of feathers and paper, and even painted some of the feathers so he would have more colors. Daniel said he has been to camp Allyn before.
“It gives me something to do, and it keeps me out of trouble,” Daniel said about camp. “I have enjoyed it the past three years and I just keep coming back because it’s fun.”
Part of what makes camp fun is the dedication and enthusiasm the camp staff and volunteers express every day. Klepp said the goal is to have one person for every camper, however, with the camp relying on volunteers, that number fluctuates each day.
Kreimer and Klepp said Stepping Stones is always looking for volunteers to work with the campers, whether it be one week or the entire summer. They especially need people on Fridays and in August.
“It’s important to make the campers day the best as possible,” Klepp said about having volunteers. “And it’s important for the volunteers so we can have a more open minded community.”
Working at day camp can’t really be called work, anyway. Everyone participates with the campers, whether it be swimming in the pool or fishing in the pond. And the smiles on the faces of the volunteers and staff members are just as frequent as those on the campers faces.
“I like helping kids out,” Evan Dennis, a volunteer from Amelia, said. “Whether it’s just playing tag or swinging.”
Dennis said representatives came to his school, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and told students about the camps. He decided to volunteer, and said he will leave camp with more responsibility and better friendships.
“We don’t only teach them,” Dennis said about the campers. “They teach us.”
Like Dennis, Andrea Otten, of Batavia, has also learned from a child with a disability. Her cousin Darren Shoemaker is disabled, and Otten has been around Darren most of her life. Helping him inspired her to volunteer at Camp Allyn, and she has since become a staff member.
Kreimer said this frequently happens with volunteers, who become a part of camp and decide it is a place they would like to work.
While day camp is popular for both campers and volunteers, Stepping Stones has expanded over the years into much more. The organization now has a preschool, a Saturday kids club, adult services, an overnight respite and camp and an alternative education program for students with autism.
In addition to the Lake Allyn Road location in Batavia, there is also a location on Given Road in Indian Hill, which is where the organization was founded and the first summer camp began.
Kreimer said the organization and camps have been growing year after year. And what saddens her is that not everyone knows that there is a place where their child can be in a fun and helpful environment, like the accommodating surroundings of Camp Allyn.
“My favorite thing is when you’re walking by a child and he suddenly turns around with this big grin and shows you something,” Kreimer said. “You can feel the success from this child.”
For more information about day camp or Stepping Stones Center, visit their website www.steppingstonescenter.org. To volunteer at day camp contact Sarah Bosley-Woeber at (513) 965-5110.