By COURTNIE CRANMER
This summer will mark the 54th anniversary of Camp Rainbow, a camp for children and adults with various types of mental and physical disabilities. Camp Rainbow is a non-profit organization funded by private donations. Area foundations and the general public have supported Camp Rainbow for decades. Daniel Savage, board chairman and camp director, has helped with Camp Rainbow for around 15 years.
“After moving to Warrensburg, I had spent a few years away and had lost touch a little,” Savage explained. “One evening I was reading the C-T my mom would send me, and saw Camp Rainbow was in desperate need of volunteers. I took off work to come back and help again and have been here ever since then.”
Savage said he had visited Camp Rainbow as a kid when his best friend’s mom was a volunteer. He also said he remembered visiting with his parents when they would square dance for the campers. A few years later, he had the opportunity to volunteer as a counselor in return for A+ hours.
“From that point on, it just became part of my life,” Savage said.
Camp Rainbow accepts campers starting at the age of nine. The campers will attend camp for for three days, during which time they will take part in the many different activities provided for them. Campers are only required to pay a small $15 fee. The costs are low due to the generous donations of companies and individuals. For the past several years, Camp Rainbow has been the beneficiary of the Ryan Anderson Memorial Washer Tournament. It is held by Anderson’s parents in his honor. Anderson, who was a camper for many years, lost his life in a drowning accident.
“We are so grateful for the Anderson family, and all of the folks who continue to support the camp through their time and money,” Savage stated.
A wide range of activities are offered during the camp. Regular activities include crafts, swimming and recreation, but over the years, new activities have been introduced.
“Last year we bought paddle boats,” Savage said. “For the past couple of years we’ve had the Conservation Department come out and take campers fishing. This year, we are looking into horse-back riding. Each session also has a dance night, where the counselors and campers dress up a little bit and have a fun night with music. It is probably the highlight of the week, they love the dance.”
Most of the campers are returning campers; however, there are new people who sign up all the time. Campers come mostly via word of mouth from other facilities and care centers. Savage said camp directors are beginning to work on expanding their reach and awareness.
Volunteers are always needed for the counselor position. A counselor is in charge of a camper or group of campers and helps to facilitate their activities, look after them, address their needs, etc.
“Basically, you are there to make sure they have a good time,” Savage summarized.
Other volunteers make up the kitchen staff, arts and crafts staff, recreation staff and support staff, who are in charge of organizing each area of camp. There are also cabin leaders who oversee each cabin and the counselors/campers within them.
Savage said it doesn’t take long before you realize how important this week is to the campers.
“For many, it is their only time away from where they live; whether it be at home or in a facility,” Savage said. “We have campers who will return home and pack their bag for next year immediately. The smile on their faces when they arrive is really what a lot of us live for that have been involved for so long. We learn so much from them. I can't imagine the hardships and struggles so many of them have because of their individual conditions, but yet they come happy, smiling and loving life. It is a yearly reminder of what I take for granted each day. I have also found satisfaction now in sharing camp with volunteers that are there for the first time. I enjoy meeting the youth that come to help us out. I enjoy working with young people.”
Applicants just need a heart to serve others and willingness to work, Savage said.
“We try to explain to the volunteers that while the Camp Rainbow experience will benefit them in some way, they are not there for a break or a vacation,” Savage added. “It is work, but it's one of the most rewarding experiences they will become a part of. Anyone can volunteer by giving us a call, even if you just come up for a day.”
There are many ways in which Camp Rainbow benefits not only the campers, but the volunteers as well.
“I think it's simply the chance to be out doing something different,” Savage said. “Many of them do not have an opportunity to be outside of their living arrangements the entire year. So getting to come spend a few days outside, enjoying the camp is really a treat for them. For the volunteer, the benefits are endless. I tell all the volunteers that what they put into their experience, they will take out as well. It could simply be the satisfaction of knowing you made a difference in someone’s life. We've had students become special education college majors after experiencing camp. For others, it is learning responsibility and developing a good work ethic that results in a sense of accomplishment. There are also lasting friendships formed between the volunteers.”
For more information about attending, or volunteering at Camp Rainbow, or to make a donation, please contact Daniel Savage, Board Chairman and Camp Director at 660-247-1703 or via e-mail at camp.rainbow.trenton@gmail. com.