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Arc day camp keeps kids moving

BY TOM GOLDHAMMER | JULY 24, 2012 6:30 AM

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Two weeks ago, 20 students between the ages of 8 and 20 traveled to Veterans Memorial Stadium to watch a Cedar Rapids Kernels' game. They're intellectually and developmentally challenged, and they enjoy baseball as much as any other American.

The Arc of Southeast Iowa is a nonprofit, federally funded organization that has a simple goal with its summer camp. After all, summer is the quarter of the year that children can escape from the classroom. The grind of the educational schedule is out the window, and the Arc understands how valuable spending time being active is during these precious months.

The trip to the Kernels' game was the highlight of the summer so far: The experience gave a large portion of the kids their first chance to take in a baseball game, an irreplaceable element of summer action.

The group will visit the Amana Colonies in the next couple weeks, which will include paying a visit to the Wasserbahn Waterpark. They play in the Scanlon Gym every day — staying active is important. The Arc tries to mix physical activity into several different parts of each day's schedule.

And the kids love it all.

"They understand each other really well," counselor Melissa Oblander said. "It just strikes me how accepting everyone is to each other."

The Arc has gathered a group of dedicated counselors together to hold the camp, which meets for nine hours a day, five days a week, over the course of nine summer weeks. With their day typically starting around 7:30 a.m., the kids have plenty of time to run free and enjoy the playground equipment at Mercer Park before the weather hits that all-too-familiar unbearable point in the day.

The group's agenda is nowhere near complete after their session outdoors. The counselors try to take the kids on a field trip roughly three to four times a week to keep them physically and mentally active.

The Arc visited Colonial Lanes on Monday to play miniature golf. Counselor Blake Schaw summarized the expectations for each day by saying his goal is to send them home tired, just like any other kids.

"It's an opportunity for a lot them to try new things," said Hannah Kregel, a counselor on summer break from her speech-pathology studies in Grand Rapids, Mich.

She is midway through her second season working for the Arc. Like any camp, she understands the difficulty in uniting 20 kids to focus on common interests.

But fortunately, with such a multitude of activities in their Scanlon Gym base, no child lacks a hobby. Board games and puzzles, coupled with a rec room and a gymnasium at their disposal, make every day's possibilities nearly limitless.

The counselors are responsible for transporting the kids throughout the city, and it's their commitment to the program that makes it such a great time for the youngsters.

"It's about giving them that experience that any child deserves," said Adam Franzen, a physical-therapy student from Elkader, Iowa. "It's challenging but very rewarding."


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