ARARAT — Saturday was the first full day of an Eldora “Handicamp” offered at Homeplace Recreational Park. The camp gave about 30 individuals with disabilities a much needed weekend of fun and leisure.
The handicamp started 30 years ago when area resident Brent Simpson and neighbor Paul Key decided to start a weekend summer camp for individuals with disabilities. Simpson’s daughter, Monica Taylor, suffers from spina bifeda and has attended the camp every year since its inception. Key’s son, Clark, is also among the campers who have attended the camp all 30 years.
Though Key has since passed away, Simpson and his two sons, with the help of hundreds of other volunteers, continue to put on the camp.
Camper Faye Anderson said that she is one of the handful of campers that has been in attendance since the camp’s inception. Anderson described Simpson’s efforts to make the camp a reality as “a miracle.” Anderson, who is confined to a wheelchair, said that she was surprised that Simpson was able to find the necessary funding and put the camp together 30 years ago.
“We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of helpers over the years,” said Anderson. “Though they aren’t all with us anymore, I’ve enjoyed making many friends along the way.”
Like many other campers, Anderson said swimming is her favorite activity at the camp. “I’m the first one in (the pool) and the last one out,” exclaimed Anderson.
Simpson said for many of the campers the handicamp is the highlight of their year. “Faye (Anderson), for instance, can always tell you how many days until handicamp,” said Simpson.
Simpson said though he’s “getting old,” he hopes the camp will last for many more years. Simpson said his sons Kevin, who is now the president of the camp, and Rodney are running most operations now.
This year’s handicamp also played host to the camp’s youngest camper. Lacy McMillian is 2 years old and suffers from cerebral palsy. Simpson said Lacy, who is also blind, was abandoned and he welcomed the opportunity to leave a positive impact on the young girl, who loves music and being held.
While Simpson said he “got the ball rolling” on handicamp, he has many people and organizations to thank for making the event possible. Simpson said it was impossible to list the many people and organizations who help. However, Homeplace, Mount Airy Meat Center, Chick-fil-A, the Ararat Volunteer Fire Department, a number of area churches and many others are among the long list of organizations helping make the camp possible.
According to Simpson, a number of area residents also donated the use of their campers for the event. Simpson said that’s one area in which he’d like to stir-up more participation in the camp. “Right now the only thing that limits the number of people who can attend is the number of campers we have available,” remarked Simpson.
Simpson also said that the camp isn’t just for its handicapped participants. Having raised a disabled daughter, Simpson knows well the time, effort and mental strain of raising a child with a disability. His camp also gives parents and caretakers a much needed break.
“My theory is bring me your kid, and you go to the beach for a weekend,” said Simpson.
Saturday’s handicamp activities came to a close with a concert featuring musician Doyle Watson. At the concert, which Simpson called a “blowout,” a plaque was presented to members of the Key family for the family’s efforts in making the handicamp possible throughout the last 30 years.
Andy Winemiller can be reached at 336-415-4698 or awinemiller @civitasmedia.com.