It was seven years ago and they were not certain what they were getting into. But the Hillsboro Eagle Riders saw so much love and appreciation the first time they delivered a check to Camp Itawa, Judy Roberts says, that they have returned every year since.
Camp Itawa is a camp for adults with disabilities from Highland, Clinton and Fayette counties. The camp saw its eighth year last Thursday through Sunday at the Fort Hill Youth Camp in Highland County.
“You wouldn’t believe the love and appreciation you get from those guys. It’s overwhelming sometimes,” Roberts, the Hillsboro Eagle Riders secretary/treasurer, said. “A lot of us girls, you’ll see us with tears in our eyes down there. That first year we a took check to the camp, we decided that’s where we were going to stay.”
Eagle Riders organizations are required to hold two fundraisers a year, Roberts said, one for a national organization and one for a local organization.
That first year the Eagles Riders gave Camp Itawa $500. This year they gave the camp $3,223. In the five years in between the Eagles Riders gave the camp about $2,000 each year, which comes from proceeds of a motorcycle poker run.
“You go down there to camp and meet the young adults and it makes it all worth it,” Roberts said. “They really like it and kind of swarm us. And if you need a hug, that’s the place to be. They love and are fascinated with motorcycles.”
Camp Itawa was started eight years ago by Jordan Freeze, the camp director who is also a Community First specialist and coordinator of the art studio for the Highland County Board of DD. Freeze had volunteered for 22 years at KAMP Dovetail, a similar camp for mostly younger people with disabilities held at Rocky Fork State Park. But she quit volunteering at Dovetail for a year or so and missed it so much she decided to start Camp Itawa.
Last weekend Camp Itawa hosted 36 campers, mostly from Highland County, plus 15 staff members that include a full-time registered nurse, group leaders and nighttime security staff.
It costs campers $100 to attend Itawa (a Cherokee word for to belong) where they can enjoy a variety of specialized activities or just relax. The fee covers handicap accessible cabins, meals, a T-Shirt and all the activities.
The camp is held annually the last weekend in September and Freeze said it would not be possible without the help of the Hillsboro Eagle Riders.
“They are the reason we can make this happen. Without them it would not be happening,” Freeze said. “A lot of campers can pay for the full amount, but there’s a lot that can’t pay the full amount or anything at all.”
Other funds to support the camp come from donations and the annual Jingle Bell Bazaar that will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Hillsboro Elementary School.
“They’re such nice people and they all come out on their motorcycles, visit with the campers, and let them sit on their motorcycles and take pictures and everything,” Freeze said of the Eagle Riders. “I have campers that live for that day to hear those motorcycles roll in.”
After rolling in last Friday the Eagle Riders also provided a few hours of karaoke free of charge.
“It was amazing to watch how the campers had no inhibitions around each other,” Freeze said. “People I never had any idea would do it got up there and sang.”
Campers can participate in field games, crafts, dances, campfires and more, watch demonstrations and other programs, or just relax.
Freeze said some campers have Down syndrome, are visually impaired or can have any number of other disabilities. They are required to meet certain criteria and must be 18 or older.
“We’ll take anyone with anything as long as they meet that criteria of independence,” Freeze said. “If they don’t want to do something, they can sit and play cards and that’s fine because it’s their camp.”
Brice Seymour has been an Itawa camper several times. He said Tuesday that the food is good, the people are nice and he enjoys the field games.
“It gets me out of the house and I don’t have to worry about anything else,” Seymour said. “I can’t wait till next year.”
Anyone interested in making a donation or helping in some other way can contact Freeze through the Camp Itawa Facebook page.
Roberts, one of the founding members of the Hillsboro Eagle Riders, said that people who are not members of the group often tag along with the Eagle Riders. She said that once they see what’s going on at Itawa, they usually decide to make their own donation.
“If you go down there and see how they are with each other, it’s like why doesn’t everybody do that for each other,” Roberts said of the campers. “If one of them is in a wheelchair or something, it’s like all the others try to help them. They’re all big buddies.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]