There will be kickball games, limbo dances, arts and crafts, and a talent show. There will be all of that and more at the sixth annual Camp Good Times residential summer camp May 30 through June 5 at Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park in Millington.
Caroline Williamson, left, and Daniel Lawrence spend the afternoon in the pool at Camp Good Times. The residential summer camp is for developmentally disabled children and adults.
(Photos Courtesy of Camp Good Times)
The campers are a group of about 35 developmentally disabled children and adults. The staff is a handful of friends and volunteers who leave their day jobs in Memphis and elsewhere for a week to encourage therapeutic recreation while also providing a break for campers’ families.
“For some of our campers, this is the only time they are away from their families and able to spend independent time with their peers,” said Niki Boswell, founder/director of Camp Good Times. “We strive to provide a camp that is not only fun, but helps develop their independence and promote their growth and development.”
Boswell founded Camp Good Times as a 501(c)3 in 2008 with Daniel Lawrence. Both had volunteered several years at Camp Celebration, a summer camp for children and adults with mental disabilities that came to an end in the summer of 2006 after 16 years of operation.
“In the summer of 2007, I had this horrible feeling in my heart and I realized that it was the kids that I missed so much,” said Lawrence, who has a sister with autism that attends camp. “Camp Good Times gave me the opportunity to reach the kids on a personal level, and it has changed my life.”
To qualify for Camp Good Times, campers must be at least 6 years old, ambulatory, toilet trained and able to complete basic self-help skills with minimal assistance. Cabin assignments are based on gender and age and usually contain four to six campers with two to three counselors.
Daily activities include arts and crafts for motor skill development, outdoor fun for teambuilding, health and fitness to promote nutrition and well being, and swimming for the advancement of sensory skills. Each night, a camp-wide activity such as a dance, carnival or talent show is held to allow the entire camp to get together and interact.
“I enjoy planning activities and seeing the joy on the campers’ faces while playing and achieving things they hadn’t before,” Boswell said. “I connect with the counselors and allow them to see that same joy by helping their campers.”
Camp Good Times is different from most camps in that it is based solely on the work of a group of individuals. There is no foundation, company or organization that backs the seven-day production, which, after nursing, transportation, insurance, lodging, activities, T-shirts and medical supplies, costs approximately $16,000 each year to operate.
“We ask the campers to pay $350 for the week,” said Lawrence, who oversees Camp Good Times’ finances. “This is low compared to other camps, but my goal was eventually through donations, to lower costs each year, not raise them.”
Vashti Ricks enjoys the petting zoo that visits Camp Good Times for an afternoon.
Joey Maurizi, director of meals and charitable giving, said Camp Good Times has been fortunate to have meals donated from local restaurants such as Patrick’s Steaks & Spirits, Neil’s Bar, Central BBQ, Huey’s, and Memphis Pizza Café.
“Over the first few years, we have focused on three areas: to ensure long-term sustainability, to provide exciting programming for our campers for the duration of camp, and to seek out meal donations from area businesses to help offset our largest expense for the week,” Maurizi said.
As Camp Good Times approaches its sixth year, its staff and activity directors are reaching out to friends and family in hopes of attaining new supporters capable of making annual donations. Maurizi’s focus areas are twofold: “camperships” to cover the cost of one camper ($350) to attend camp, while also raising funds to pay for the nurse for the week.
“In recent years, a previous counselor who had become a nurse had volunteered his/her time for the week of camp. However, this year neither of those individuals is available,” Maurizi said. “In order to not affect our operating budget, I hope to help raise the $4,300 over the next two months to support this crucial part of camp.”
Camp Good Times also differs from other camps in that it allows campers from the age of 6 on. Most camps only allow campers until the age of 18.
“Some of our most excited and fun campers are in their 50s,” Boswell said. “Camps were not available when these individuals were children, so we want to provide them a camp experience that everyone should be afforded.
“Many of our older or higher functioning campers enjoy helping and working with younger campers or campers that do not function at the same level. We encourage these relationships as they promote independence and self esteem while developing social skills and relationships.”
Contact Boswell at email@example.com for camper and volunteer information. Contact Maurizi at firstname.lastname@example.org for meal donations and charitable giving. Visit camp-goodtimes.org for more information.