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Top Ten: Special Needs Camps

“Disability is not a ‘brave struggle’ or ‘courage in the face of adversity.’ Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.” ~Neil Marcus

SEE ALSO: Top Ten: Adaptive Sports
Top Ten: Adaptive Recreation Facilities
Learning Resources: Special Needs & Disabilities

Arizona is home to a variety of camps and retreats – some held in the summer and others held year-round – that have specially trained staff who cater to children with a wide range of special needs. Included are camps for the physically disabled, mentally challenged, and children with various medical conditions. Designed to provide as much of a traditional camp experience as possible, these special camps enable kids to have fun, make new friends, and bring home wonderful memories.

1. Arizona Camp Sunrise (Payson) – Arizona Camp Sunrise offers a variety of programs and activities for all ages throughout the year for children ages 3-18 who have or have had cancer. There are day camps, week-long residential camps, weekend retreats, teen trips, and other special events year round. Traditional camp activities include archery, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, arts & crafts, and singing around a campfire. Non-traditional activities like rappeling, dance, drama, rocketry, magic, scrapbooking, and cooking. Additional fun activities include a dance, a carnival, and a Jello War. Fun is the main goal of these programs, with the special needs and safety of the children a top priority. The Arizona Camp Sunrise staff is made up of American Cancer Society volunteers and medical personnel (oncology doctors and nurses who volunteer their time).

2. Arizona Magic of Music & Dance (Fountain Hills) – A one week drama camp for children and young adults with physical and mental disabilities that prepares them to stage a theatrical production written and choreographed especially for them. Despite their physical or cognitive impairments, this gives them an authentic theater experience that builds their self esteem through the pride and joy of performance. Teens volunteering as “Buddies” develop their leadership talents as they help the actors transcend their disabilities and discover magical possibilities. The Program Director is Ruth Covey, co-founder of ZETA21 International Leadership Foundation – a 501 (C) (3) established to identify and develop nontraditional leaders.

3. Camp Abilities (Tucson) – Camp Abilities is a comprehensive developmental sports camp for children in middle and high school who are blind, deaf-blind or multiply disabled. The camp provides a 1:1 instructional situation for each child. Campers will participate in a varied list of physical activities such as goalball, tandem biking, swimming, golf, yoga, pilates, kickboxing, beep kickball, power showdown, weight training, rock climbing, bocce, horseback riding, billiards, bowling and beep baseball. A detailed task analysis is developed for each skill required for each sport. These assessment sheets are sent to parents and physical education teachers, to assist in defining ability and to encourage physical activity throughout the year.

4. Camp AZDA (Prescott) – Camp AZDA, a program of the American Diabetes Association, is held at the beautiful Friendly Pines Camp facility in the tall pines of the Bradshaw Mountains. A Teen Adventure Program (TAP) is located nearby at the Bradshaw Pines facility. These residential camps provide a week full of exciting activities. Camp AZDA medical staff provide for the children’s safety while the campers have fun participating in traditional activities and meeting other campers with diabetes.

5. Camp Candlelight (Mayer) – Camp Candlelight, one of the most cherished programs offered by the Epilepsy Foundation of Arizona, provides children ages eight to fifteen with a unique camping experience that combines traditional camp activities with specialized epilepsy education sessions. Camp Candlelight staff includes a neurologist, several nurses, and counselors, all with special training in how to recognize and respond appropriately to seizures. The camp is being held at Chauncey Ranch, a YMCA camp in Mayer, Arizona.

6. Camp Civitan (Phoenix/Williams) – Since 1968, the non-profit Civitan Foundation Inc., has been providing multiple programs to meet the needs of children and adults who are developmentally disabled. The organization offers one-week summer camping sessions, weekend camps, day camps, weekly and monthly events, day treatments, enrichment programs, and nights out. In addition, the Civitan Foundation is planning to build a sustainable community where those with disabilities can live independently with one another.

7. Camp Dream Street at Canyon Ranch (Tucson) – The Dream Street program at the beautiful Canyon Ranch health resort in Tucson is designed to help meet the needs of 18 – 24 year-olds recovering or suffering from severe disease. At Canyon Ranch, participants with chronic and life threatening illnesses are given the opportunity to briefly escape their complex lives and medical problems to prepare for the transition to adulthood. It is an environment where illness is overshadowed by group support and fun. The program focuses on the social issues that confront young adults dealing with illness. The group dynamic at Canyon Ranch is a safe place to share feelings and interact with peers. Self esteem, stress, and body image are some of the many topics discussed in group sessions. The Canyon Ranch staff features health and fitness professionals that are among the best in the world.

8. Camp Not-A-Wheeze (Prescott) – Camp Not-A-Wheeze is the only camp of its kind in Arizona providing children with asthma from all over the state a safe, traditional summer camp experience. Children participate in activities ranging from horse back riding, hiking, canoeing, fishing and more while also attending asthma education class to learn more about properly managing their asthma. Campers are accompanied throughout the week by licensed medical professionals who volunteer to ensure a safe, well monitored environment.

9. Camp Soaring Eagle (Sedona)Camp Soaring Eagle welcomes children from Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah and provides a special place, completely free of charge to the campers and their families, where children living with life-threatening diseases can forget about their illness and play like kids in a medically safe environment. They host Camper Weekends, Family Retreats, and Travel Programs year-round.

10. Whispering Hope Ranch (Payson) – The Whispering Hope Ranch has been providing a fully accessible healing environment for individuals with physical or developmental challenges since 1998. WHR’s mission is to offer rustic ranch-style camp and retreat experiences to special needs children and their families. The Ranch also serves as a home for animals born with physical differences or rescued from difficult circumstances. The interaction between the animals and special-needs guests is nurturing and calming, and promotes well-being.

HONORABLE MENTION: HopeKids (Cave Creek) – Although not a camp, HopeKids provides exciting events, ongoing activities, and a unique support community for families who have a child with cancer or some other life-threatening medical condition. Hope is a powerful medicine, and HopeKids gives children something to look forward to!

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