JACKSON, Ohio -- For hundreds of children across Ohio, 4-H camps are an escape from thoughts of school and household chores -- a time to enjoy the outdoors and make new friends while learning life skills in a fun-filled environment. Being a typical kid is what it's all about and it was no different for a group of special needs youths who recently participated in the first Ohio multiple-handicapped 4-H camp at Canter's Cave in Jackson County.
"4-H is supposed to be for everybody, but sometimes it's not when there is no accessibility for those who need it," said Connie Goble, Ohio State University Extension 4-H youth educator for Pike County, and camp coordinator. "Special needs children sometimes don't get to do all the normal, typical things that other children get to do. This camp is just like any other 4-H camp, but is specially tailored for handicapped children."
The lodge at Elizabeth L. Evans Outdoor Education Center Canter's Cave 4-H Camp, which is owned and operated by the 4-H programs in Vinton, Meigs, Scioto, Jackson, Gallia, Lawrence, Pike, Highland and Adams counties, has undergone handicap accessible renovations with the help of local donations and continued camp supporters. Such renovations include ADA-accessible bathrooms. The Shriners also donated funds for roll-in showers, changing tables and bath chairs. The Pike and Highland County 4-H committees were the main contributors of the pool lift.
The two-day camp, themed "I Think I Can, I Think I Can," introduced youths to such activities as swimming, arts and crafts, archery lessons, music therapy, and PetPALS -- an OSU Extension, 4-H Youth Development program that promotes a natural bond between youth and animals.
For Missy Sprankel, the five-hour drive from Erie County was well worth the trip to see her 11-year-old autistic daughter, Hayley, participate in the activities and make new friends.
"In Erie County there are no facilities or activities that are dedicated to special needs children, other than summer softball and tee-ball," said Sprankel, of Huron, Ohio. "She wasn't sure of the camp at first and wanted to go home, but after the activities started I haven't heard a peep out of her since."
Not only is the camp educational for her daughter, but is helpful to Sprankel as well. "It's taught me more patience, and it's showed me that I'm not the only one who has a special needs child," she said. "Now I don't feel so alone."
Anita Harris, executive director for Canter's Cave for the last decade, is thrilled that a multiple-handicapped camp has been added to the list of year-round activities at Canter's Cave.
"The multiple-handicapped camp is a new venture for us, but it's exciting to watch the kids participate in the activities, meet new people and participate in all the activities that any typical child would get to do," said Harris.
Canter's Cave operators have such high hopes for the continuation of multiple-handicapped camps that renovations to the facility are continuing. Already planned is a new cabin built specifically for youths with disabilities. The Shriners have donated $9,000 to start the fund for the new cabin, and additional donations amounting to $5,250 have come in from area residents and businesses.
Canter's Cave, located off Route 35 just minutes from Jackson, Ohio, has existed since the turn of the century when visitors held picnics and stayed in cabins for weekend getaways. 4-H bought Canter's Cave in 1949 and expanded to area to over 350 acres. Today, Canter's Cave is the site of over 50 4-H camps that serve 6,000 Ohio youths, as well as numerous other activities, such as banquets, weddings, retreats, outdoor and historical seminars and trade fairs.