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HomeNewsArchives‘We Get to Have Fun’: Special Olympics Training Camp Opens

‘We Get to Have Fun’: Special Olympics Training Camp Opens

July 23, 2007 — Ten youngsters, girls and boys ranging in age between 12 and 15 and in behavior from shy and anxious to frankly curious, had one thing in common Monday morning: They are the first class of the V.I. Camp Shriver.
The camp on St. Thomas is named for Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of former President John F. Kennedy. The original Camp Shriver was held in the 1960s when Shriver hosted the event at her home in Potomac, Md., while challenging people everywhere with yards and pools to open their homes and provide an opportunity for young athletes with intellectual disabilities to participate in training for the Special Olympics.
The introduction of Camp Shriver to the Virgin Islands is the brainchild of Debra Brown Delone, a Virgin Islander now living in the Washington, D.C., area. Delone brought the program to the attention of first lady Cecile deJongh earlier this year, and that was the genesis of Monday's event.
Delone told the students a little of the camp's history at the official opening of the camp at the Mark C. Marin Center of Antilles School, where the two-week camp will take place.
A volunteer for the Shriver Camp through her local Lions Club in Washington, D.C., Delone successfully suggested to Shriver expanding the camp to the Virgin Islands. As former director of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands, she asked current director Michael Akin to oversee setting up the camp.
Shriver hosted a luncheon in March for the camp, with Gov. John deJongh Jr. and the first lady, Janice Lee of Special Olympics, Akin and Special Olympics Senior Vice President Dr. Thomas Songster, as well as representatives from various Shriver camps across the nation.
Akin and Delone thanked the volunteers Monday, without whom the camp couldn't exist. Delone thanked the two medical professionals: dentist Susan Anderson, who held a "smile clinic" last week, and Dr. Anthony Francis, who volunteered for the pre-camp physicals. Anderson will take her smile clinic to the St. Croix camp next week.
Camp Director Jackie Nelthropp talked about the buddy system. Each student will be partnered with a buddy, a student volunteer. The twosomes will participate jointly in the daily activities, developing camaraderie, teamwork and partnership. Felecita Richards, special-education director, talked about other aspects of the program, including "learning one new word each day."
DeJongh said he hadn't realized when he became governor that he would witness "the 30th anniversary of the Special Olympics in the Virgin Islands, and the beginning of Camp Shriver." He continued, "I feel honored. When you look at this, this isn't government-led. This is coordinated by the government, but it is the power of private citizens, the volunteers, the parents who do the work. As long as we stay together, as long as we have volunteers, we can make this work."
DeJongh hailed the efforts to bring parents and the challenged young people together “in a setting that makes them no different than persons their age who compete in ordinary sports.”
The volunteers are a varied group — not only parents, but also different voices from the community. They include private businessman Brad Murrell, who said he simply wanted to contribute; Archie Jennings, community activist and Special Olympics board president; and Richard Gomez, Bethlehem House manager.
"I had to bring my special love and happiness to the camp," Gomez said with a smile. "You know me, good ol' Gomez." For years he has helped the disadvantaged on the island with the outreach program he runs through Bethlehem House.
Diovanni Halliday, an Addelita Cancryn student, chatted with deJongh Jr. before the official program, telling him what he wants in the next two weeks.
"I really want to play basketball," said the youngster, who stands about 5 foot 10 inches. The governor told Halliday he could do that, and he said he'd be able to pick up additional social skills as well.
Simon Hodge, 11, a Lockhart Elementary School student about a foot shorter than Halliday, wanted to get his two cents in, too: “I want to play volleyball.”
"You get to have a fun day, too," Halliday told him.
"What's that?" asked Hodge.
The older boy looked patient. "We get to have fun," he said.
The program is fun, but with a serious purpose. It focuses on sports, but as a path to learning how to develop friendships with peers.
"When the kids finish this program, they will be able to walk up to other kids playing ball and join in,” said volunteer Therese Hodge, Cancryn physical education teacher. “They will have developed the social skills to be able to do that, with their buddies helping them.”
Therese Hodge, a constant presence at island running and walking events, is the perennial organizer of the popular Women's Jogger Jam. Along with personal trainer Lorenzo Donastorg and Nelthropp, she attended training at the Shriver camp in Washington earlier this year.
Student volunteers age 16 to 19 will function as buddies for children with special needs and help them through the sports-skills stations. The adult volunteers are counselors.
"Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, we'll have swimming lessons at the St. Thomas Swimming Association pool in Nadir,” Therese Hodge said. “The other days we'll play basketball, soccer, other sports and we'll do some quiet games and have arts-and-craft projects."
The St. Croix Shriver program also opened Monday morning, with first lady Cecile deJongh presiding. Both camps run two weeks, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The program is funded by grants from the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, the ICC Prosser Foundation and Clearwater Consulting Concepts LLLP.
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