Roughly 300 campers were enjoying fishing, horseback riding, boat rides and crafts Tuesday at KAMP Dovetail, the annual five day, four night summer camp that serves as the highlight of the year for most of the special needs youngsters who attend.
Linda Allen, the executive director of Supplemental Assistance to the Handicapped (SATH) and the camp’s director since its inception 35 years ago, proudly described the various activities that were taking place as she tooled around in a golf cart on a warm Tuesday afternoon at the Rocky Fork Lake campground area where the event is held.
Along with displaying her obvious love for the camp, Allen described various details and back stories of the campers, parents, volunteers, staff members and 25 or 30 dependable sponsors who make the camp an annual success story. The level of planning and detail necessary to pull off each year’s camp could well be called an annual miracle.
Allen joked about getting older and not having the energy or the ability to go without sleep for the weeklong marathon of events that she once had. But if there’s any drop off in vigor on Allen’s part, it’s hardly noticeable to the numerous campers, volunteers or staffers who approach her with questions or updates as she escorts a visitor around the campgrounds.
Still, Allen said that over the years, many duties she once had to perform herself have now been assumed by others through familiarity with the routine, and her praise and appreciation for those who take vacation time or put aside other life events to help with the camp is unending. Some volunteers are as young as 6 or 7, spending the week with a parent or older sibling who also volunteers and developing a lifelong habit of helping others.
But each year, Allen is the driving force behind making sure funds are raised, supplies are on hand and technical or legal issues are addressed.
Each year, the camp seems to unveil a new feature or upgrade. This year, Allen points to new cabin tents that replaced old army-style tents used in previous years. Many of the cabin tents include flooring to protect inhabitants from insects or unwanted furry visitors that are not uncommon in a wooded area. And their set-up time is much faster than the old tents.
Allen recounted deals that were made over the years for significant discounts on supplies or materials, telling story after story of companies or businesses offering 15 or 20 percent off, only to finally agree to as much as 50 percent off after persistent bargaining on her part.
The goal is to keep the camp affordable for the special needs youngsters who spend each year looking forward to the camp. Campers are charged just $40, but a considerable number of them are unable to afford even that, so funds are raised to provide subsidies to make sure no one is turned away for reasons of financial hardship.
This year’s camp theme is Candy Camp, and the activities and materials all display various candy-related motifs. In previous years, KAMP Dovetail has Gone Country, visited Hollywood, been through Training and Boot Camp, traveled Around the World, gotten our Game On, been Under the Sea and more.
The camp runs through Friday, and the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday called for a good chance of thunderstorms. But Allen said she has learned to ignore weather reports each year.
“We can handle rain,” she said.
On Wednesday at 7 p.m. the camp will hold its annual auction and carnival. Allen said that anyone with items they’d like to donate can bring them out to KAMP Dovetail before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“We kind of emphasize the public coming on Wednesday night when we have our auction and carnival, but actually the public can come out anytime,” Allen said previously.
According to an official KAMP Dovetail description, each child who attends the camp “is teamed with their very own camp volunteer. You will notice that we used the word volunteer instead of counselor. That is because everyone at our camp is exactly that. A volunteer! None of the individuals at our camp are paid for their time. Each and every person is there solely for the purpose of ensuring that the campers enjoy their week at camp.”
The volunteer staff works year-round to secure donations of cash and supplies from area merchants and individuals.
“This combination of an all-volunteer staff and their year-long fundraising campaigns allows us to offer our camp at a fraction of the cost charged by other similar camps.”
For more information or to become involved with KAMP Dovetail, call 937-366-6657.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.