‘Everybody fits in’: Camp Sunshine has a legacy in Wilson

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Stephen Finch watched as son Mason played in the pool at Reid Street Center.

Mason bounced and splashed about just like summer play is supposed to be.

“He gets a lot of interaction with other kids in the same situation as him,” Finch said. “It gets him a chance to be around other kids that view the world the way he does.”

Mason is on the autism spectrum and is one of 90 intellectually and physically disabled people who are participating in The Arc of Wilson’s Camp Sunshine.

The five-week camp based at The SPOT in Wilson has been going on for more than 40 years.

“They have fun out here,” said camper Damian Crooms. “They do arts, go bowling, go to the movies, go to the park, the pool and do a train ride.”

Crooms has been going for three or four years, according to his cousin, Brittany Woodard.

“They are not in the house,” Woodard said. “They are in the community doing things. They are getting some physical activity, and they get to socialize. They get to be themselves.”

Michael Stanford, executive director of The Arc, is the grandson of Kaye Bunch, who was director of the camp for 23 years.

“I would always help her volunteer and stuff at camp during the summer when I was out of school,” Stanford said. “I went to Barton and got a degree in special education and elementary education because I knew that I wanted to work with people with disabilities. So it happened that the year I was graduating was the year she decided to retire. So it was kind of subconsciously she was kind of grooming me to step into her role.”

Daily attendance is around 70 or so.

The Arc of Wilson is a United Way agency, so most of its funding comes from The United Way. Every year, A Taste of Wilson raises around $16,000 for the staff that is hired for the camp.

For the past four years, BB&T Lighthouse Projects have been paying for the crafts each day, sending supplies and providing manpower.

The camp uses The SPOT buses and has obtained a grant to pay for lunches. Volunteers from local high schools also help out.

Most of the participants are from Wilson but also come in from surrounding counties.

“It’s a camp only for people with disabilities,” Stanford said. “When you are with your peers and everybody is like you, you don’t stick out. Everyone is normal. Some of our kids rock or may have vocal outbursts, but people don’t turn and stare at Camp Sunshine. It’s a normal part of their lives and a normal part of our lives. Everybody fits in.”

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 265-7818