For those with chronic medical conditions, life can seem like a never-ending cycle of appointments. As difficult as that is for an adult to endure, it can be heartbreaking to watch a child go from school to therapy and back to school again without enjoying many of the simple joys of childhood so many of us take for granted.
Helen Berry took note of this during her daily duties as a pediatric occupational therapist, as did Ashleigh Dalton, who works as a pediatric physical therapist in North Carolina. A desire to give their young patients a chance to simply be kids was the impetus for Camp Cliffview, a one-day camp devoted to allowing children with special needs to safely explore the outdoors.
“She and I both saw the need for something like this for our patients,” Berry said. “What we found was all of our patients would go to school, go to therapy and that was their whole week.”
As they started making plans for what would eventually become Camp Cliffview, Berry and Dalton tapped into their shared love for the outdoors and the traditional summer camp experience. After touring several camps, the duo settled on Appalachian Christian Camp in Unicoi County as the ideal place to host the campers.
With a location in place, Berry and Dalton started sending letters out to potential sponsors, who generously began providing the funding necessary to turn their vision into a reality. The duo then got to work establishing relationships with local colleges in order to recruit the volunteers necessary to run the camp.
“Most of our relationships are with the ETSU PT program and the Milligan OT program,” Berry said. “They provide the counselors for our campers. That kind of gives them some experience handling kids with special needs, and it gives them a perspective of what it’s like to be a caregiver for a child with special needs.”The first campers arrived at Camp Cliffview in 2014, and the opportunity to safely participate in outdoor activities made an instant impact on the youngsters. Memories were made, confidence was built and new summer traditions were born.
“A lot of our kids that come to camp now, their parents will say they look forward to this all year long,” Berry said.
There were 11 campers that first year, and after some trial-and-error, Berry found that 20 campers seems to be the magic number to ensure that everything runs smoothly. And thanks to a long list of generous sponsors, the kids who attend camp do so free of charge.
Camp Cliffview will wrap up its fifth year of operation on Sept. 8 as one final group of campers enjoys a day of crafts, fishing, canoeing, swimming and, of course, s’mores. Although putting on the one-day camps requires a lot work, the reward will come for Berry the same way it always has – during a slideshow the campers, their families and the camp staff watch after sharing dinner together.
“It’s just good to see those pictures of those smiling faces, of them having fun,” Berry said. “That’s it for me, to know that they’re having a great day and they’re in a safe environment. It definitely a lot of work to put it on, but at the end of the day, that’s what I take home.”
Those interested in donating to Camp Cliffview can do so by visiting summitlife.org/donate/. Anyone interested in learning more about Camp Cliffview or registering a child for one of the camp sessions next year can visit www.campcliffview.org.