Camp Runamuk: Fun and support for families of kids with special needs

Prescott, AZ – Naomi Edwards, 11, smiled as she showed off the treat she made with frosting and sprinkles on Saturday, Oct. 8, during Camp Runamuk at the United Christian Youth Camp in Prescott.

Fourteen families attended the said camp. Hosted by the nonprofit Foundation for Exceptional Kids, which combines traditional camp activities with therapies for kids with special needs, said Allie Hepler, administrative assistant for SEEK Arizona (Specializing in the Education of Exceptional Kids). SEEK serves people with developmental disabilities, specializing in those on the autism spectrum.

“About four years ago, we wanted to offer something for our families,” said Jenna McClain, assistant director of the Mesa-based organization. “Some families who have a child with special needs are unable to take a vacation. This experience offers something for everyone in the family, and our support staff are here to help.”

Campers, siblings and parents do things they’re interested in on their own in the morning, then families come together in the afternoon for horseback riding and campfire activities at night, said Jessica Irwin, CEO and founder of SEEK. “The kids get so tired from the activities they’ve done all day that they fall asleep fairly quickly,” Irwin said of the camp that ran through Sunday.

On Saturday morning, younger campers worked on fine motor skills by making guitars and enjoying the musical therapy. They also practiced their gross motor skills by playing their instruments, singing and dancing.

“I made it,” said Alyssa Perkins, pointing to her handmade guitar.

Peyten Osborn played his guitar, then danced with his Camp Pal Priyanka Dhus to songs volunteers played on their guitars. Camp Pals are trained providers who help each child with special needs throughout camp. Meanwhile, campers and siblings whose ages ranged from 14 to 18 years old took part in the counselor in training program, making candles and using the zip line.

“I like being outdoors. I’m a Boy Scout and roasting marshmallows at the campfire last night was fun,” said Nicholas Pinto, 17, a counselor in training, who said he’s working on his Eagle project cleaning veterans’ gravestones.

At the same time, parents participated in discussions about handling behavior and finding funding.

“I always remembered the fun I had at camp,” said Beth Sandig, who was there with her husband Brad and 6-year-old son Asher. “I didn’t think Asher would get to experience that, and then we found this.”

Brad said it’s good to be surrounded with supportive people who understand their son’s sensory issues, and that this was more of a vacation than a recent trip to San Diego.

“We’re already planning to come back next year,” Beth said.
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