(with Alexandra Diaz)
I’d like to tell you a story. Clean off your glasses, grab a cup of coffee and get comfy. It’s a good story, and it begins something like…
ONCE UPON A TIME
…in a land called Marco Island, there was an event. It was more than an event, it was an adventure. And it goes by the name of Camp Able.
For five days, 55 campers with special needs and diverse abilities, join 110 counselors and numerous volunteers to experience a week of inspiration, joy, self-discovery and exploration that instills a sense of awe for all those involved.
Camp Able began on Marco Island nine years ago, and was initiatedby a team lead by Father Kyle Bennett. Its home base is St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, but the experience extends throughout the community. This year the camp ran from July 15-19.
Campers arrived Wednesday and the energy was palpable. The drums were playing and songs resounded through the hallways. All that was but an accompaniment to the laughter, cries of greetings and tears as the campers unload their gear and met up with friends, both old and new. If you could harness that type of energy, it would light the entire night sky and be seen from the moon.
There is a 2-1 ratio of counselors to campers. This creates theopportunity for a very safe and meaningful experience for all the campers, who range in age from 10-46. The environment fosters a strong buddy system which creates many opportunities for the campers to explore their abilities.
Every day is filled with wonder as the campers explore all the activities open to them. Fishing, scuba diving (in a pool), shotgun target shooting, kayaking, biking, swimming, a day at the spa, and even making chocolate (more on that in a bit). They expressed their artistic abilities, their communication desires, and explored their spirituality in ways they did not think possible. And every day they practiced for the final night Talent Show. A perfect way to explore their individuality.
Let’s add a littlemagic to our tale; The Marco Island Chocolate Company. This is a venture established to help provide funding for Camp Able. Wade Mundinger leads the way for this endeavor and has been involved with Camp Able for eight years.
“We’re learning as we’re earning,” says Wade, as he demonstrates the process. “Campers get a chance to learn how to make chocolate and, in turn, they earn financial credit toward their Camp Able experience. We also sell the chocolate online and in local retail stores. We want to change the world one heart at a time and one chocolate bar at a time.”
The Marco Island Chocolate Company has three blends available, withthree more coming soon. Local retailers include Wake Up Marco, Scuba Marco, Rookery Bay and Island Bike Shop. Go online: marcoislandchocolate.com. All their chocolate bars are made with 60% dark cacao and a whole lotta love. Which makes for some very magical enjoyment.
The Camp Able experience has spread and can be found in Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi. In the beginning, Father Kyle expresses his vision in true Southern style: “[Camp Able] is a sacramental gumbo where the diversely abled are baptized in a spiritual roux of dignity-driven love. It is a place where you are invited to be yourself, set your soul free and change the world.”
Callie Bennett is theCamp Coordinator and a focal point in bringing together the myriad components that make up the Camp Able experience. “Camp Able is the highlight of my year. It has been so motivational in my life. I am currently pursuing a master’s program in speech pathology. I have developed such a passion for working with special need children and adults as a result of my Camp Able experience.”
Callie continues: “This was the best year yet. There is no comparison to this week of the summer. It is just awesome! Thank you to the entire community of Marco Island for opening their arms to Camp Able. It warms my heart to hear, right from day one, that they are alreadylooking forward to next year.”
The halls of St. Mark’s are quieter now. Campers and counselors have left our fairy tale world. But, in each, the story lives on and is passed along to all who will listen. The echoes linger here on Marco Island, and are strong enough to keep the memories intact until another tale can be written next year. This is where I will leave you. There is a chocolate bar on my counter I would like to experience. And while the story never truly ends, I will say farewell for now with something like…
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
“I want to thankall the people who make Camp Able possible, because coming here has really helped me to grow my faith. Every year when camp is over, I can’t help but look forward until next year. Camp Able is truly a home away from home.”
- DJ Burlingame, Camper
“Sometimes, I feel down about myself. At times, I felt like taking my life. But if I were to die, I would have died in that car accident. I believe God created Camp Able for people like me. To make me feel happy again.”
- Jeffrey Smith, Camper
“It is just amazing! You can not ask for a better place or better surroundings to send your children. The socialization here is fantastic. The counselors even stay intouch after camp. At home, Louis creates stories using the pictures from Camp Able. It really makes you teary-eyed because he loves it so much. This is by far the best place for anyone.”
- Joseph & Cynthia Pampena (Campers Louis and Heather)
Joe takes some pictures, Cynthia is seated with yellow sweater.
With So Many Thanks
Rick’s Island Salon
Marco Island Water Sports
Pro Fish in Sea Fishing Charters (Mike Kenzer)
Weis Guy Fishing Charters (Jody Weis)
Island Bike Shop
Capri Fish House
Rock Star Gym
Marco Island Civitan Club
Collier County Health Department
Gulf Coast Clays at Port of the Isles Shooting Club (Corey Rugg)
Skin Renewal Systems
Scott and Deb Needles
Duncan Wheeler (Music)
Anne and Gary Landis
John and Jean Esposito
Scot and Pat Kaufman