Camp I Am Special Reopens After Pandemic Closure

By Fran Ruchalski

At this time of year, most kids are anticipating the joy that Christmas morning will bring.

But for the campers and their buddies of Camp I Am Special, the big day for them was the one-day Christmas camp on Saturday, Dec. 18 that brought two dozen campers to celebrate the season with the friends they haven’t seen in two years due to the pandemic.

Operated by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Camp I Am Special is a camp for people with intellectual and developmental differences and physical disabilities. The camp is located on Marywood Drive in St. Johns, Fla.

Photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Fran Ruchalski

Each camper gets paired up with a high school-aged buddy to give care and supervision for the campers. Some have been teams for several years.

It was a day of fun for the campers. There was lots of food, a video game truck, Grinch bag and ornament making, bingo, group sing-alongs, a caroling hayride, and St. Johns County Sheriffs Office let them check out their vehicles and introduced them to K9 detection dog Judge, culminating in a visit from Santa.

The big surprise for all came when The Players 2022 Tournament Chairman Matt Welch drove up in a brand new six-seater golf cart donated by the TPC Redcoats which the camp will use for transporting its campers around the property for a variety of activities.

According to Welch, “It’s really a neat thing for us. You see how much it means to the campers themselves. They have a lot of kids out there that need help getting around, and this just makes it easier on them and more fun. It was a joy to be out here with them.”

One of the campers, Kaci Himmelreich, 18, has been coming to the camp since she was six. Before that, her two big sisters were buddies at the camp.

Their mom, Annette Himmelreich, says it’s become a total family involvement for her family.

“Under the direction of camp director Rebecca Allemon, this place has come to mean the world to Kaci. She looks forward to this day even more than Christmas. Coming to camp is the best gift on Earth for her.”

Kaci’s two older sisters are now professionally employed in the special needs community as a physical therapist and a deaf educator for special needs students.

“It’s amazing,” says Annette, “how one person being born can change the world.”

“At this time of year, we are very mindful of the word ‘generosity’. But,” she continued, “generosity is only truly fulfilled when it benefits the giver and the receiver.”

And that, she says, is what Camp I Am Special does every day.

It benefits the volunteers and the families who selflessly donate their gifts and talents as much as the kids who love being there. It is the true home of all that generosity encompasses.

For these kids, it’s the Disney of Jacksonville, the happiest place on Earth.