DEDHAM, Maine — For 8-year-old Tyler Smith, there are few places he can go and feel truly comfortable. Diagnosed at birth with a debilitating illness, Smith has used a wheelchair since age 2. He stands out in school, in public places and just about anywhere else he goes.
Like most kids this time of year, the soon-to-be third-grader can’t simply survey the list of area summer camps and choose the one he likes best.
“There are places that say they are inclusive of children with disabilities, but they’re really not,” said Cheryl Smith, Tyler’s mom.
In fact, only one facility in eastern Maine lives up to that promise, Camp CaPella, on Phillips Lake in Dedham, which handles all the details most camps overlook.
Smith hopes to be among dozens of campers in attendance this summer.
“Universal acceptance,” explained Dana Mosher, the camp’s executive director. “We get kids of all different types of physical disabilities, and they are all treated the same here.”
For more than four decades, Camp CaPella was affiliated with United Cerebral Palsy of Northeastern Maine and relied on that relationship for operational costs. Three years ago, UCP decided it could no longer afford to provide funding, and the camp reluctantly closed its doors. Luckily, though, they didn’t stay closed for long.
A group of parents and camp supporters got together and explored the process of creating a separate nonprofit agency for Camp CaPella. Several months and dozens of fundraisers later and the camp was back in business.
Mosher, who was selected to see Camp CaPella in the future, admitted the money aspect keeps him up nights.
“There’s no state or federal funding for us; no stimulus package coming our way,” he said.
Still, with shrewd financing and a lot of volunteered time, the camp keeps going. Mosher said he and others are busy getting ready for Camp CaPella’s 2009 summer season, which begins June 22 and runs through Aug. 14.
“We hope it’s here to stay for many years,” he said. “This camp is a great community resource that gives children and adults with disabilities opportunities to enjoy a summer camp and experience that is all their own.”
Logan Severance, 9, of Brewer, attended Camp CaPella last year and said he hopes it’s an annual event.
“I like swimming the best,” he said, spinning circles in his motorized wheelchair.
Severance’s mom, Terri Severance, said her son came home every day last summer declaring how awesome Camp CaPella was. Sending him back this year is an easy decision.
“He’s really able to make connections with other kids who are like him,” she said. “Unless you’re in that situation, you can’t really relate.”
Such is the beauty of Camp CaPella, said Mosher, who has worked to expand the facility’s offerings year-round.
This year, the camp has partnered with Youth in Motion, a program sponsored by Alpha One that allows children with disabilities a forum to play games and sports in their wheelchairs. Many children involved with Youth in Motion also attend Camp CaPella, so it only made sense, Mosher said.
So far, more children have applied to attend the camp than in any other year, and Mosher hopes to harness that momentum.
“There are a lot of great dreams for Camp CaPella,” he said. “There’s no reason we can’t do more.”
For kids like Severance and — hopefully — Smith, they are just happy to have anything at all.
“We are thrilled to have this option for him,” Cheryl Smith said of her son. “For him to get away and develop that level of independence without having to worry about all the day to day stuff. It’s nice.”
For more information on fund-raising efforts or for a camp schedule, visit the Web site, www.campcapella.org or call 843-5104.