Campers Overcome Challenges Since 1924
In 1924, two Rotarians, Hezzelton Simmons, President of the University of Akron, and Walter Hoyt, an orthopedic surgeon, had a strong desire to organize a summer camp for, then called, crippled children. Dr. and Mrs. Simmons had a child with a disability who died early in life. Dr. Hoyt, because of his work with children with disabilities, and Dr. Simmons, because of the loss of his daughter, worked out a plan to aid these children. The two decided to start a camp, free of charge, to meet the specific needs of the children who had polio and other physical disabilities.
Drs. Hoyt and Simmons met with members of the Akron Rotary Club, who welcomed the idea with great enthusiasm. On June 10, 1924, they rented YMCA Camp Mudjekewis for 10 days; the Akron Rotary Camp for Crippled Children was born.
1925, the Akron Rotary Club purchased six acres on
The Camp’s physical structure changed a great deal over the years. First, the campers moved out of tents and in to wooden cabins. In 1955 the Club erected the Walter Hoyt Recreation Hall. Seven new concrete block cabins became part of the Camp in 1959. The Hezzelton Simmons Lodge, constructed in 1963, included a new kitchen, dining room and craft center.
Major renovations have taken place in more recent years. New roofs now top the Hezzelton Simmons Lodge and all seven cabins. The cabins were remodeled in the mid 1990’s and in 2003 the Camp purchased the white house across the street for the director and turned the old quarters into a new Health Lodge and office space.
In 2007 Rotary Camp purchased another residence located behind the boys cabins. The director and his family moved on to this new property. The seasonal leadership staff now live in the white house. This move was a necessary step because the camp is preparing for a major capital campaign, redeveloping much of the present cabins and buildings. The first phase of this campaign will be to renovate cabins and to build a new bathhouse on the hillside where Aunt Gertie’s cabin currently stands.
Because of the advances in medicine over the years the campers served at the Rotary Camp have changed more than the buildings. The Camp began as a camp for children with physical needs, but has grown to meet the needs of a broad scope of children with physical and developmental needs ages 6 through adulthood. While children used to be patients, they are now campers, who hail from diverse parts of our community. Some campers come to camp through social service agencies or friends, while others are referred through hospitals, Rotarians and other camps.
The camp and its activities have been a source of pride for its owners since 1924. For more than two-thirds of a century, volunteers from the Rotary Club of Akron ran the Camp. In 1991, due to the complexity of the campers and to protect its assets, the Rotary Club of Akron formed two 501 (C)(3) non-profit organizations, the Akron Rotary Camp for Special Children and the Akron Rotary Foundation. The foundation currently provides approximately 13% of the camp’s current operating budget.
The newly formed Rotary Camp Board quickly determined it necessary to have a professionally trained director and a mature staff of counselors, trained to handle the specific needs of these children. Thus, the camp board hired a camp manager in 1991, United Disability Service. In 1995, the collaboration with the Akron Area YMCA began and continues today.
This summer over 1000 children and adults with a wide range of special needs will attend the camp. The goal of the camping program is to build each child’s character while he or she is here for the week. Campers participate in nature, cooking, music, dance, campfires, creative arts, sports and games, and waterfront activities (and much more).
The Rotary Camp experience is about much more than the activities. It’s about doing the right thing to support the campers and their families. Rotary Camp provides a respite to many families each summer and throughout the year. Additionally, campers develop lifelong skills such as increased independence and socialization, a greater awareness for the environment, and an increase in physical activity.
In 2003 Rotary Camp started a day camp program for children with disabilities. The following year Rotary Camp formed a successful partnership with the Summit County Board of MRDD to help fund summer recreational opportunities. Other agencies that Rotary Camp partners with includes United Disability Services, Summit County Cluster, Child Guidance and Family Solutions, and other county DD boards to name a few.
Primary funding for the Camp’s budget comes from the Rotary Club of Akron. The Club raises funds through private donations, grants and fundraisers. For several years, proceeds from a contract with the Akron Public Schools assisted in the funding of the Camp. A major fundraiser for the Camp today is the Wayne Homes Chili Open held in February.
The Camp began as a free week for campers. Today, campers are asked for a $525 registration fee; financial assistance is available to qualifying families. While Drs. Simmons’s and Hoyt’s philosophies are still in place Rotary Camp does not turn any camper away for inability to pay.
2005 the Rotary Camp Board of Trustees officially changed the name of the camp
to Rotary Camp for Children with Special Needs to reflect the expanded service
area. Campers attend camp from all over
The summer of 2007 marked the first year of Rotary Camp expansion through the development of a day camp program at Hale Farm and Village in Bath, Ohio. To celebrate Rotary Camp’s 85th Anniversary in 2009 Rotary Camp opened another day camp program at the Windfall School in Medina. This program is the result of a successful collaboration between the Medina YMCA, Medina County MRDD and Rotary Camp.
In 2010 Rotary Camp launched a collaboration with the Portage County Board of Developmental Disabilities. This four week day camp will serve over 40 campers each week at the Happy Day School in Ravenna.
Throughout the year, camp offers Respite Weekends to campers and their families. These fun packed weekends provide opportunities for campers to see their old camp friends and give parents and caregivers a much needed break. Camp is also used in the fall, winter, and spring as a retreat center for a variety of groups and organizations. Groups that currently utilize the Camp facilities include Akron Children’s Burn Center, local church groups, UDS, fraternities and sororities, and adult support groups.
In 2010 the Rotary Camp Board of Trustees also committed to further helping families and campers in need by further supporting the Advocacy and Support Programs at camp. Through advocacy Rotary Camp helps families of children with disabilities in need. Camp staff may attend IEP meetings with school districts or doctor appointments at the family’s request. The staff help to facilitate what our camps need most. Through support programs Rotary Camp is hosting support groups which provide an structured environment for parents to share experiences and learn about resources within the community.
In 2011 Akron Rotary Camp was recognized by the Akron Beacon Journal as the Best Summer Camp based upon readers votes. Rotary Camp received this award again in 2012.
Rotary Camp’s facilities have changed greatly in the past few years. In 2010 the Camp Board committed to a $3.5million capital campaign. Designed by Peninsula Architects, a new bathhouse, remodeled cabins, and a new recreation and resource center were the key elements of the campaign. Led by Camp’s first development director, Bonnie Wojno, and volunteer co-chairs, Jack and Vivian Harig and Nick and Ruthie George, Rotary Camp has successfully raised over $3.2 million to date.
On October 27, 2010 the first groundbreaking ceremony was held to build the new bathhouse and begin the first two cabin renovations. The Hilton Cabin was built by volunteers every weekend through the generosity of Rennick Andreoli. The new bathhouse and Hilton and Lehner Cabins were complete for the 2011 season. The remaining five cabins were completed for the 2012 summer camp season. Another cabin was built by Rennick and his gang. The Homebuilders Association built two cabins as well.
The Resource Center broke ground in October of 2012. This flagship building will be completed this summer (2013).
The summer of 2013 has also brought many other changes. Camp found it necessary to scale back on its day camp programs operating one at Rex Lake and the Happy Day School. Camp is expanding its ESY program collaborating with Coventry Schools and Out of the Box Behavioral Solutions. This program includes occupational and speech therapies. Camp expects to maintain enrollment of 1200 camper weeks this summer.
Rotary Camp further expanded its collaboration with the Akron Area YMCA in the spring of 2013. The YMCA’s Phoenix Alternative School developed an school program for children with emotional disabilities at Rotary Camp. Hilton and Lehner Cabin have been turned into classrooms for the school year. The school opened on April 8th with three students.