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Marin Center Turns Into Camp HQ for Special Kids

June 23, 2008 — At the start of last year's Camp Shriver, when someone would toss a ball at Shamae Rodgers, then 13, she not only didn't catch it, but she was barely aware of the ball even approaching her. Three weeks later, things had changed.
"By the end of camp, she'd know the ball was coming and she'd follow it, even chase it across the gym," said Caroline Smart, a volunteer who is back to help staff the second annual Camp Shriver on St. Thomas, which kicked off Monday at the Mark C. Marin Center at Antilles School. The three-week sports program is dedicated to serving children with mild developmental disabilities in hopes they walk away with new skills and new friends.
"I like the interaction and the way they build social skills," said Shamae's mother, Diane Rodgers.
Joan-Ann Anthony, whose 15-year-old daughter Jolysa is back for year two of Camp Shriver, said her daughter blossoms at the camp.
"In a setting like this, she knows she won't be ridiculed because of her disability," explained Anthony. "She loved it last year. She played ball, she learned to swim. What I like about it is they don’t feel intimidated. All the kids are at the same level, and they learn to express themselves."
Campers spend their days playing ball games, doing arts and crafts and board games, as well as taking weekly field trips to the butterfly farm in Havensight, to the bowling alley and to Coral World. In addition, they enjoy twice weekly swimming lessons at the St. Thomas Swimming Association pool in Nazareth and daily lunches through the federal school lunch program.
Each camper is paired with a "buddy" at Camp Shriver, most of whom are volunteers from the community. The camp staff organizes activities and oversees individual progress. Opening day was dedicated to assessing each child's abilities, and the word of the day was "friendliness."
There is no cost to families. The camp is fully funded courtesy of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands and Clearwater Consulting Concepts, LLC.
Only 10 campers took part in last year's inaugural camp, and this year, camp director Jackie Nelthropp said they're expecting 20 campers, but she acknowledged she'd like to have more. While enrollment information went out to all the public schools, not as many families as expected have taken advantage.
The last day of camp is July 11, and Nelthropp stressed that it's still not too late to sign up.
Andrea Shillingford, assistant to the executive director of Catholic Charities, speculated that low enrollment is a combination of concern about children being in the care of others and worries over the stigma associated with having a child with developmental disabilities.
"They might be afraid of the way people will look at them," Shillingford said. "But I feel it's time we as a community change the way we look at these children…and recognize the role they can play in the development of the community."
For Joan-Ann Anthony, whose goal for her daughter is to live an independent life, Camp Shriver is an important building block.
"I like avenues like this, that lets them open up and express themselves," Anthony said. "I want to see her…cope and live in society, and be on her merry way."
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