Camp Hope: Giving the Gift of Camp to Kids with Disabilities

Many parents feel an odd blend of joy and anxiety after leaving their child at an overnight camp for the first time.

But for parents of children with developmental disabilities that need constant care, summer camp is often not a viable option.

Camp Hope gives mentally disabled children the opportunity to enjoy the fun of going away to camp, providing the camper with one-on-one attention and the family with a sense of safety and security for their child or sibling.

“Our goal is to create an everyday camp experience, despite whatever disabilities a camper may have,” says Lillie Romeiser, Camp Director. Activities such as swimming, horseback riding and eating s’mores around a bonfire allow the campers to grow and develop strong friendships with other kids who are just like them.

While parents might still feel uneasy about leaving their child somewhere overnight, they are comforted by the fact that each camper receives 24-hour care and is paired with a counselor throughout their time away from home. This gives parents a sense of comfort, and allows them to take some time off from caring for their child, even if it is only for a few days. “It’s easy for them to see it’s a special place, that it gives off aura of love and joy,” Romeiser says. “We still get anxious phone calls from parents, but most of them see that everyone at camp is celebrated and valued for who they are.”

High school and college students volunteer as camp counselors, or “Buddies,” and they’re each paired with one camper to work with for the duration of camp. “The Buddies are what makes this all possible,” Romeiser says. “Their goal is to not only provide care, but to be a best friend to the camper they are paired with.” Buddies are also trained extensively in programs that cover general medical procedures, water safety, and techniques for moving campers with physical disabilities. Buddies are matched with campers weeks in advance of the beginning of camp, allowing them to get in contact with the camper’s family and to get to know their new best friend.

“I would say that our best tradition is seeing the bond that the Buddies and campers make by mutually caring for each other throughout the week,” Romeiser says. “Most of our campers and Buddies are returning from previous years because they have had such positive experiences at Camp Hope.”

Want to help Camp Hope continue their magic?

Here’s a quick and easy way to make a difference: Join Camp Hope at a fundraiser at Joe’s Bar Thursday, June 20 at 940 W. Weed St. in Chicago. For $30, you can enjoy a night of dinner, drinks, and entertainment as you celebrate the success of Camp Hope. The proceeds from the event will go toward camp operations and financial aid for campers.

Camp Hope By The Numbers 

  • Camp Hope costs $300 to attend, though financial aid is available
  • 83 campers with developmental disabilities have participated in Camp Hope since it opened in 2006
  • 160 parents have received a week of respite due to Camp Hope
  • 170 high school and college students have volunteered at Camp Hope
  • More than 1,000 Volunteers from various communities have participated in Camp Hope