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Camp Riley Offers Disabled Children A Safe, And Fun, Haven

A summer camp in Martinsville offers disabled children a safe environment that encourages independence and self-esteem, research says.

Adapted waterskiing

Photo: Bill Shaw

A camper waterskis in a specially-made harness at Camp Riley.

It was the last week for campers at Camp Riley in Martinsville. Indiana University researchers say the opportunities these camps give can’t be matched.

Kids at Camp Riley all share one trait in common – living with a disability.

Jon Poynter, a three year veteran of Camp Riley, is 12 years old and has cerebral palsy.  His favorite activities at the camp include waterskiing and jumping off the pontoon boat.

“I get to do a lot of things that a handicapped person doesn’t get to do much,” Poynter says.

What Camp Riley does do is bring handicapped kids together to give them a summer camp experience. They can go horseback riding, scuba diving and climb a 40-foot wall. Camp Riley even has adapted waterskiing so that children who can’t use their legs are able to ride behind the boat in a special ski harness.

Camp Riley Counselor Claire Reichenbach says these kind of interactions build the children’s confidence.

“The atmosphere is always ‘yes you can’ instead of ‘no you can’t,” Reichenbach says.

She says she sees campers become more independent and have higher self-esteem as they interact with each other in a safe, encouraging environment.

“There’s not a lot of places where they can be like, this is me this is who I am and have fun and they don’t have to have the pressure of trying to fit into like their school or anything because they already fit in here, this is their home,” she says.

And the research says so too. The IU study says that these kinds of camps may be a sort of safe haven for disabled children like Jon.

“It’s fun because other kids that don’t have a disability won’t want to play with you because you have a disability, but these kids understand,” Poynter says.

Casey Kuhn

Casey Kuhn is a reporter working for WFIU/WTIU news. Originally from Cincinnati, she recently graduated from Indiana University with a B.A. in journalism. Her main interests are dogs, baseball, and food. Follow her online at @CaseyAtTheDesk.

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