United Cerebral Palsy provides summer camp fun

‘It fills my heart with joy, knowing they are able to get out there and enjoy life,” said Kristine Cleary, adult services coordinator of the San Luis Obispo County chapter of United Cerebral Palsy.

She was referring to her adult clients with cerebral palsy and other disabilities, who recently spent a week at Camp Arroyo Grande.

On a recent afternoon, I visited the camp to speak with Cleary and several of the campers. Brad (the campers’ last names were requested to be withheld for their privacy) guided me from the Tabernacle down to the pool to find Kristine.

Many were splashing about and hanging out at the swimming pool in the unusually warm weather at the camp, tucked in the woods behind the Village of Arroyo Grande and protected from fog and wind.

Others were up in the octagon building, known to the Methodist Church (which owns the property) as the Tabernacle.

UCP’s Camp Kelley has not always been at Camp Arroyo Grande in the Village; it was formerly at Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County.

David, 63, has been coming to Camp Kelley for 19 years. His favorite part of camp is hiking, eating good food and hanging out with his girlfriend. David works at Firestone Brewing in Paso Robles.

Evan of Grover Beach, 22, likes “being outside exploring all the animals.” The campers love the big swimming pool, the arts and crafts, music, nature walks, skits at night and the activities, including soccer, volleyball, bocce ball and tetherball.

They look forward to fun excursions, too, such as going to Lake Tahoe, Monterrey Bay Aquarium, Universal Studios, Lopez Lake waterslides and Disneyland in August.

This adult camp represents several disabilities. Recently, there were 49 men and 24 women. Campers range from ages 16 to 80. Sixteen counselors, five volunteers, Cleary and UPC Executive Director Mark Shaffer make up the staff.

On opening night, there is a big bonfire. The campers form 12 groups of six or seven. They also create names for their groups, such as Tequila Sunrise and Piña Colada. They do most activities in their groups but stay in different cabins so they get a chance to meet everyone at camp.

One night is talent show night, where each group picks a song and performs a skit. They have a luau, which includes dancing with a hula instructor. Friday night is the closing ceremony, with a slide show of all their activities from the week.

Tim Cantu drives for UCP, taking clients from their homes to their jobs at such places as Achievement House and Special Olympics and transporting them to Lake Tahoe and the other field trip locations. As the father of a baby girl, Cantu decided to leave his long-haul trucker job so he could stay closer to home.

Rusty is a camper and counselor. He gives the campers one-on-one attention and takes them around to activities. When not at camp, he works at the retail nursery at Achievement House, where he sells begonias, lavender and other products. He also plays golf and basketball in the Special Olympics.

Among Cleary’s other activities is planning Teen Camp for children with disabilities, which will be held for three weeks starting July 24 at Bishop’s Peak Elementary School in San Luis Obispo for those ages 6 to in their 20s.

Working with her clients “makes my heart throb,” she said.

For more information on UCP activities, call 543-2039 or go to www.ucp-slo.org.