New home for Camp Sunshine: Church hosts special-needs summer day camp

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Camp Sunshine, a five-week summer day camp for exceptional children sponsored by The Arc of Wilson County, has a new home.

Since 2011, the camp has been held at The SPOT, but this year, First Christian Church is the campers’ home base.

“They opened their doors to us and we surely appreciate it. We are so glad,” said camp director Letitia Cherry.

Michael Stanford, executive director for The Arc of Wilson, said the camp had to move due to unfortunate circumstances.

“I put some feelers out through board members to find somewhere in the community we could get to take us in because we are a lot to take on. One of the suggestions was First Christian Church,” Stanford said.

The church has been more than accommodating, Stanford said.

“I like it because we are able to break ourselves up a little more,” Stanford said. “At The SPOT, we were in their big multipurpose room and it was all age groups in there together. It always felt like organized chaos in there to me because there was always so much going on. Being here, we have our older two groups in one room and we are able to come together for song time and arts and crafts and other things we’re are able to do, but then we also have our youngest group in a room by themselves.”

The more fragile ones are able to be in a room by themselves and the 8-12-year-olds are also separate.

“It is nice to be able to split up a little bit and have some separation between our groups,” Stanford said.

The camp runs for two weeks prior to July when it has a one-week break, then resumes for three more weeks. Children come from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

Cherry, who the campers call “Ms. T,” said campers have participated in a wide variety of activities like swimming, bowling, going to the movies, playing at Gillette Park, taking train rides, singing, playing games and working on arts and crafts.

Camper Zachary Jordan of Wilson said the camp is fun and he looks forward to it every summer.

“I am having a very blessed time seeing all my friends,” Zachary said. “I have to give a thank-you to T and all the staff here at the camp.”

Some 75 campers ages 3 to 21 participate.

“We have about eight staff members that come,” Cherry said. “We have volunteers that come in and out. We have some ranging from the age of 14 to 16 years old. Some of them are in school and some of them work, but they all volunteer their time to come. I enjoy my volunteers. They are awesome. You have to have a special gift to come and join this camp.”

BB&T has taken on the large job of handling arts and crafts for the camp as a Lighthouse Project.

“Planning 25 arts and crafts for 75 campers is a lot,” Stanford said.

BB&T also stepped forward to fund a new sensory room this year.

“When some of our kids with autism or disability are just overwhelmed and need a place to take a break, we can let them go to the sensory room,” Stanford said.

The room has a small trampoline, a tent, a felt wall, fabrics, magnet board, water beads and other activities that one or two children can play with for a little quiet time.

“The children are adjusting really well to the new venue,” Cherry said.

The SPOT provides lunch and transportation for Camp Sunshine that includes the use of a shuttle with a wheelchair lift.