By Mary Ashton Mills

 

When 8-year-old Katherine Ivey asked her mother, Sterling, when she would get a chance to go to overnight camp like older sister Ansley, age 14, and older brother Patrick, age 16, the innocent request hit a chord with Sterling. It never occurred to her that Katherine would want to go to summer camp. But then she thought, “What child wouldn’t want to go to camp?” Canoeing and archery and campfires and nighttime cricket sounds sing to the heart of a kid. This is the stuff summer is made of.

Nonetheless, Sterling knew she would have to find just the right place, just the right experience for Katherine, now 10, who was diagnosed with a chromosome deletion at 18 months old. “I wanted it to be an overnight camp, and I wanted it to be for high-performing kids with developmental delays,” says Sterling. “And I wanted it to be fun.” A calendar filled with therapy sessions and daily struggles to perform basic tasks screams for a reprieve. Sterling desired for her child to know the carefree days of summer camp.

She diligently searched for a paradise of youth for her youngest, but it remained elusive. The camp that most closely fit Katherine’s needs was located in Vermont. “I wanted to pack her trunk and drive her three hours,” says Sterling, “not put her on a plane.”

A Determined Mom

Sterling was undaunted. A survivor of two fights against cancer, she knows how to face a challenge head-on. If she couldn’t find a nearby camp, she would start one for Katherine and kids like her who need a summer camp offering extra supervision and adapted activities. “I don’t know what her limitations or possibilities will be,” Sterling says, “so let’s shoot for the moon.”

Investigations into nearby facilities capable of hosting Sterling’s proposed camp raised a new set of concerns, however, primarily financial. She was quoted a base price of $30,000. Additional fees would push that number higher. By this time, Katherine was 9, and Sterling was afraid that if this camp thing took too much longer she would miss the window of Katherine wanting to go to camp.

A thick white binder corrals Sterling’s collection of brochures, papers, notes and communications. Flipping through it, she points out the information from the camp in Vermont and runs her finger along the margin of a sheet listing ideas about the ideal camp for children with developmental delays. Volumes of research spill between the pages. She has done her homework.

“One in six children has developmental delays. It impacts walking and talking and playing and writing…” and Sterling names a dozen other routine activities most parents never think about. “I didn’t realize how passionate I was until I was talking about it in front of a room full of strangers.” She put her whole heart and her binder on the table when Wilson Family Y Director Krystal McGee invited her input on the Camp Lakeside renovations.

Perfect Timing

In fact, the timing of the Camp Lakeside renovation project could not have been more perfect. The capital campaign to raise money to build new structures and adapt existing ones for special needs populations is in full swing. Children’s Hospital of Georgia plans to hold its camps, such Camp Rainbow, Camp Sweet Life, Camp Share and Care, and others, for medically fragile and disabled children at the new Camp Lakeside. “It’s becoming a completely accessible camp. It will be medically safe for physically challenged children,” says Millie Huff, the Family Y’s community relations director. Remote restrooms, paved pathways, accessible cabins, medical quarters and an accessible multi-purpose facility will create a camp to serve all CSRA children.

It’s shaping up to be the perfect place for a week-long camp for Katherine and the children with whom she hopes to share memories savored for a lifetime.

The idea spurred by a child’s small voice finally grew its roots in August 2014. Danny McConnell, President and CEO of the Family YMCA of Greater Augusta, took Sterling’s wished-for Camp IVEY— Inspiring Very Exceptional Youth—under the Y’s umbrella of programs planned for the new Camp Lakeside facility, which is projected to re-open in 2016. “Sterling kind of found us,” explains McConnell. “God puts people together in life and this was one of those occasions for me.”
Camp IVEY at Camp Lakeside will be an annual week of overnight camp for high-performing children with developmental delays. “We can take the passion of one person and turn it into something that benefits a lot of people. I believe that’s where this thing is headed,” says McConnell.

Much organizational work in terms how the camp itself will operate remains to be done. Yet, optimism is in the air. In October, an anonymous $20,000 donation was made to the Family Y in support of Camp IVEY. In addition, 75 percent of the funds raised by Reid on the Run on February 7 will benefit Camp IVEY. More funds are needed, but the seed money is there. Sterling summarizes, “It’s no longer a family starting a camp. It’s the Y hosting it.” She feels immensely blessed.

Best of all, Camp IVEY won’t even require local parents to drive their child and his or her trunk three hours away. It will be right here at home on the shores of Clarks Hill. But still a world away from the frustrations and cares of everyday life, in a place where canoeing and archery and campfires and nighttime cricket sounds sing to the heart of a kid. That’s the stuff summer is made of. What child wouldn’t want an experience like that?

Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson, Ga., with her husband and their four children. 

This article appears in the February 2015 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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