Have fun, grow, make friends at NY camp for kids with disabilities

RHINEBECK, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Summer time means it’s time for summer camp, and in northern Dutchess County, there’s a camp for kids with special needs.

Since 1922, Camp Ramapo has sat on the shores of peaceful Sepasco Lake in the town of Rhinebeck. But it’s not your typical camp. It’s open year round, serves three meals a day, conducts work groups and seminars, and has a special kind of camper.

“It was originally founded by a group of wealthy donors who created a summer camp for kids who had disabilities,” Adam Weiss, CEO of Ramapo for Children, said. “We called them at that time emotionally disturbed, kids who were in orphanages, kids who had challenges they had to overcome.”

For 95 years, Camp Ramapo has functioned with the idea that kind adults can bring out the best in kids. Weiss said that belief turned into a philosophical one that recognizes troubling behavior in kids can be improved by developing social and emotional skills.

Colleen Barringer’s son, Christian, attends the camp.

“He loves to have friends, which is difficult for him to make, which Ramapo has helped him with that,” she said.

Christian has attended the camp for five years.

“[We] like to play catch with the tennis ball I brought, and we like to do a lot of things,” he said of the friends he made at camp.

The campers’ days are planned out with many activities that keep them busy and on the move. The day begins with the bunks getting together with their counselors to go over the camp rules and what activities are planned for the day.

From diving into the lake to craft activities. To going out on the boats to learning how to fish.

“Most of the members here at the club are older than the counselors, so in a since, the young kids see us as grandparents to them,” volunteer Bruce Cuttler said. “So I think they like to have some of the older people there, and they treat us like we are family. And when we come here, a lot of them run up to us, call our names. They can’t wait to see us. They are a real good group of people.”

“It’s a set of strategies that adults can use to create environments in which the broadest possible range of kids can be successful,” Weiss said.

While the campers enjoy the activities, he said it’s more about the skills that are learned such as patience, safety, following procedures and rules, and working within a group.

Every summer, Camp Ramapo has three sessions and hosts over 500 campers from around the world. They spend three weeks with the counselors learning skills to cope and just doing what any other camper does: swimming, crafting, and having the time of their lives.

“I love it here, and what I mean by just coming here is it puts a lot of joy into my day,” Christian said. “I get so excited when it gets close to coming here because it’s amazing.”

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