Special needs, special helpers
By JENNINE ZELEZNIK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
KINSMAN -- It took her only one week to get hooked.
After that, Kymm Brown of Cortland couldn't stop volunteering at the weeklong Special Needs Day camp.
Now in her eighth year as a counselor, the 20-year-old makes time every summer to help out area kids with disabilities -- even going so far as to arrange to work evenings at Wal-Mart so she can spend her days with the kids.
"I love these kids -- I really do," Brown, a student at the University of Toledo, said. "As long as they keep having this camp is as long as I'll keep coming."
Same sentiments: Valerie Evans, 18, shares Brown's sentiments. The Austintown resident has been volunteering for five years, and has since talked her mother, younger sister, boyfriend and friends into helping, too.
"I come out here and try to get the kids to have a smile on their faces, at least once a day," Evans said, her bright blue eyes serious. "I love these kids."
The Special Needs Day Camp is in its 30th year of operation. This year, about 25 campers from Mahoning and Trumbull counties attended.
"A lot of campers have been here for 10 or more years," said Tiffany Sherman, the camp's program director. "It's a great opportunity -- one of the few opportunities around this area for a special needs camp."
Evans chimed in, "It's one of those things -- you can't stop coming back."
Sponsored by the Lake to River Girl Scout Council, the camp first was held at a campground in North Jackson, but is now at Camp Sugarbush.
Benefits for all: "It gives the campers an opportunity to spend time in an outdoor setting," said Connie Yencik, director of the camp. "And it gives the counselors a chance to feel the rewarding experience of working with special people."
The camp is set up so every child is paired with at least one counselor. This way, each camper receives enough attention.
"They need more attention," Evans said, stepping out of the way so a young girl could motor by in her wheelchair. "And I love to give them that attention."
But Evans' involvement with the campers doesn't stop with the end of camp. She continues working with the kids throughout the year, taking them to the mall and sending Christmas cards.
And as a surprise, she even took six of the girls to a recent Backstreet Boys concert in Pittsburgh.
"She picked up all the tickets and took us," said Candace Hearrell, 16, of Youngstown. Pictures of the concert show Hearrell screaming with delight. "I have Valerie to thank for that."
Scouting project: Evans has also made the camp the focus for her Gold Award project in Girl Scouting. She's been working all year to put together a 30-year reunion for counselors and campers from the camp.
The event is tentatively scheduled for September, though she's not sure yet how many will attend or where it will be held.
The response so far, though, has been positive, mostly because people love the camp.
Hearrell, floating by Evans in the camp's pool, looked up and smiled.
"I love it here," she said, her purple two-piece shining in the sun. "I never want to quit coming here."
To contact Valerie Evans about the reunion, e-mail her at email@example.com, or call (330) 792-9691.