Sandy Stevens, co-director of Camp ENGRY, splahes with an MTSU camper.
Although many physically disabled youth miss out on adaptive-recreation opportunities as part of their lifestyle, the local creators of Camp ENRGY are hoping their summer-camp template will soon catch on.
Now in its second year, Camp ENRGY, which stands for Excellence ‘N’ Recreation and Games for Youth, is a weeklong camp for youth designed and implemented by Dr. Don Morgan, director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health in Youth at MTSU, and two of his doctoral students, Sandy Stevens and Jenny Hutchens.
In August 2009, Morgan, along with camp co-directors Stevens, Hutchens and a handful of volunteers, enacted their inaugural Camp ENRGY, free of charge, as a five-day camp for physically challenged youth ages 10-17 in the local area. This year, the camp is back with an expanded participant age range, 5-18, and an added emphasis on not only physical activity but also nutrition.
Set for July 26-30 on the MTSU campus, the camp’s registration roster filled quickly, reported Stevens, who said seven of this year’s participants are returning campers.
“The mission of the camp is to provide a positive experience for each child in a variety of activities,” she explained. “Our goal is to facilitate participation in lifelong physical activity, which improves their quality of life and reduces the burden of their disability. On a personal level I want each child to leave with great memories of their time at camp.”
Dr. Don Morgan, exercise-science researcher.
Like last year, this year’s daytime camp will include yoga, swimming, nature trails, dance, indoor soccer, martial arts and GPS-based activities, as well as strength/flexibility training, baseball, golf and football. Plus, because one-third of this year’s Camp ENGRY participants are second-year campers, event organizers have worked hard to find to new ways to engage the youngsters.
“To keep them interested, we are adding a variety of new activities,” Stevens confirmed. “For example, this year the campers will be able to participate in gymnastics, kayaking in the pool, playing Wii and hosting a touch-football game.
“We are also trying to build on the mission of the Center for Physical Activity and Health in Youth by instructing the campers on healthy eating and providing an opportunity for them to prepare and serve a meal,” she noted.
By providing the 20 or so campers with a wide array of adaptive-recreation opportunities, camp organizers hope that each child will leave with the desire to continue at least one of the activities explored.
Also among this summer’s activities will be a tried ‘n’ true favorite endeavor, singing camp songs.
“One of our counselors this year is the son of a Grammy-winning songwriter (Marcus Hummon),” Stevens shared, “(and) he will be providing music at various times throughout the week. … Plus, we are hoping that we may even be able to have his father perform at our camp-graduation event or maybe at the evening meal."
A Camp ENGRY volunteer helps a camper practice
her ball skills and serve. (All photos courtesy of MTSU.)
Meanwhile, camp founder Morgan, who is a professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at MTSU, said that by sponsoring an activity camp for children with disabilities, he hopes MTSU’s CPAHY will forge the way for others.
“We hope that this summer camp will become a template for other camps for physically challenged youth here in Tennessee and throughout the nation,” he said. “We also hope that we can raise awareness of the need for local recreations groups and organizations to provide meaningful activity and sports opportunities for these kids.”
Morgan first conceived the idea for Camp ENRGY as an outgrowth of a four-year research project conducted at MTSU and funded by the National Institutes of Health,”
While engaged in this research, Morgan said, he studied how to improve the leg strength and endurance of youngsters with cerebral palsy by helping them train on an underwater treadmill. Doing so, he added, caused him to ultimately seed the idea for what would become Camp ENRGY.
“During this (underwater-treadmill) project, I began to envision the creation of a sports and fitness camp for youngsters with physical disabilities in the hope of improving their ability to participate more confidently in home-, school- and community-based physical activities,” he explained.
For all involved in implementing Camp ENRGY, the goal is to give campers experiences that produce lasting implications by helping them incorporate physical activity, along with its benefits, into their daily lifestyle.
“Engagement in physical activity becomes more challenging for children with disabilities,” Stevens said, “and it is our hope that by providing this camp, participants will experience an increase in their confidence and their physical capability, create a positive experience with physical activity that may encourage continued participation, and also allow the participants to explore a variety of activities that have the potential for lifelong activity.”