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Something for Everybody

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People with disabilities want to go to camp and enjoy the unforgettable memories created there just like everyone else.

And Easter Seals’ Camp Fairlee, situated on a 250-acre former farm donated by du Pont heiress Louisa d’Andelot Carpenter, has been making those memories possible for 62 years.

Opened in 1954 to provide recreation and respite for children with polio, Camp Fairlee has grown to offer year-round programming for the young and the young at heart (last year, the oldest camper was 85!) from Delaware, Maryland and nine other states. Fairlee offers weeklong camp sessions throughout the summer, travel trips throughout the year, and weekend respite/retreat programs from August through May.

The campers—1,000 to 1,200 a year—“get an outdoor experience they couldn’t have anywhere else,” says camp director Sallie Price. “They can pick up a toad or a box turtle, see a bald eagle, take nature walks, make pottery and get their hands muddy.”

And, with the recent completion of a 12,000-square-foot activity center, they have a place to dance, show off their talents, work on their art projects and play basketball, not to mention staying dry and cool on days when storms and summer heat forces them inside.

“Families, every day of the year, have a responsibility for providing care,” Price says. “Sometimes they need a break, and the campers need a break from their parents.”

Newark resident Tom Needles understands the importance, and the value, of those breaks. 

His son Mark, who is now 32, “is high on the autism spectrum, has a low IQ and acts like a 4- or 5-year-old in many ways. He has behavior issues, seizure issues and high blood pressure. Caring for him is very stressful,” he says. 

Mark Needles looks forward to going to Camp Fairlee each summer.

Because Mark was not considered a good fit for living in a group home, he still resides with his parents. Four years ago, they learned about Camp Fairlee.

“It’s hard to find a place to leave him where he feels comfortable, but he looks forward to going to Fairlee each summer,” Needles says. This year, Mark enjoyed swimming, rock climbing, the zip line, horseback riding, canoeing, arts and crafts and cookouts. “He came home with several awards, made from construction paper, and felt very proud,” his father says.

The week Mark spends at Camp Fairlee gives Needles and his wife the only real vacation time they have all year. “We get one opportunity a year to do the things we otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to do,” he says. This year it was a weeklong trip to New Hampshire.

“The first year, we called a couple of times to check in on Mark,” Needles says. “Now we have extreme confidence in the staff. They deliver qualified, gentle care.”

The recent $6.5 million expansion and improvement project—four new cabins, designed to meet the significant needs of all campers; a dedicated health center, with nurses on site; a dining hall large enough to accommodate 150 campers and counselors in a single sitting, and the activity center—enables Camp Fairlee to provide a high-quality camping experience to more people throughout the year.

Day camp experiences are available for children and adults who aren’t ready to stay overnight. Summer daily adventure programs, for teenagers and adults 21 and over, are a series of six day trips to destinations of interest, with campers returning to Fairlee each evening. Weekend respites feature field trips and seasonal activities. Special summer sessions and weekend respites are available for children with autism, who benefit from one-to-one relationships with counselors. Travel trips, for those 18 and over, offer opportunities for adults with disabilities to go on vacation and enjoy major attractions. Destinations have included New York City, Las Vegas, Nashville and Disney World.

“We really do offer something for everybody,” Price says.

Mark Needles looks forward to going to Camp 
Fairlee each summer. (Photo by Maria DeForrest)

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