Camp Independence is special place for special needs youth

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Disability Report (WLS)

Summer camp is a rite of passage for many young people, but for some youth with special needs, summer camp is out of reach.

One camp is changing that -- Camp Independence in Ingleside in the far northwest suburbs. And it lives up to its name.

"It feels good and I feel like I can be independent myself and my parents don't have to help me," said camper Ellie Fontanetta, who is 11 years old.

Patrick Frangella is board chairman for Camp Independence, which is operated by the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

"What we teach is independence, to learn to be independent of mom and dad, learn to do things by themselves," Frangella said.
"They do boating. They do archery. They love the pool. They love doing all the activities. They just come here and have a great time. Forget all about being in a wheelchair."

There is specialized equipment at the camp so the campers can get the total experience, as well as a total life experience.

"It is awesome," said Gabi Berthiaume, 12. " I went on the swing the first day I came here and I was like 'Ooh, that feels good. I want to do it more.'"

Kim Kiser, vice president of camping for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, said the camp offers special needs kids the same opportunities as other youth.

"And research is showing that a camp environment, that is the best environment to teach these kids away from their loving homes and independently to teach them these types of life skills," Kiser said.

The Camp Independence also gives campers a chance to hang out with young people attending a traditional camp which is also on the property. It is a learning experience for everyone.

"They all go dancing on Friday night here in our main lodge, together, all our main campers and our children with spina bifida," Kiser said. "And quite frankly, who don't even know who's who. Yeah, you're going to see some wheelchairs but you don't even see them anymore because these kids are just like all other kids."

And that's what Camp Independence is all about.

"I feel proud of myself and I feel good," said Fontanetta, the 11-year-old camper.

This camp is for children ages 7-12 and it costs about $1,400 per child to operate.

However, no child is ever turned away. The YMCA holds fundraisers to make sure all youth can experience summer camp.

For more information about Camp Independence, click here.
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