People with special needs find new experiences at Camp ASCCA
By Nickolaus Hines
Allison Wetherbee was born without arms or legs.
Wetherbee’s disability limited the types of activities she could be exposed to while growing up in Camden, Ala. Her parents were determined to raise her in a way as close as possible to her sisters.
Wetherbee was enrolled in general education classes from the start. She graduated high school and moved away from her parents to start school at Auburn University Montgomery in 1989 at 18 years old. By 1996, Wetherbee had earned a master’s degree in mental health counseling.
She attributes a portion of her success to being a camper at Alabama’s Special Camp for Children and Adults, or Camp ASCCA, from 1978–1988.
“My experience as a camper was wonderful,” Wetherbee said over the phone. “Had it not been for my experience there, I would not have gone on and done the things I did in adulthood.”
Camp ASCCA began in 1976 to offer camping experiences to children and adults with special needs. Campers ride horses, canoe, zip line, fish, water tube and more on the 230 acres on the shores of Lake Martin. The year-round camp has grown in 40 years, and now sees an average of 7,000 campers annually.
Campers at Camp ASCCA are often unaware of the activities they are capable of doing before they attend the camp. Dana Rickman, director of marketing communications, has seen campers transition from not knowing what water tubing is to experiencing it for themselves with the help of a trained staff of counselors.
Watching campers that have not been on the water because of being wheelchair bound or other reasons ride an inner tube is one of Rickman’s favorite activities at Camp ASCCA.
“To know that campers have not even been on the lake and get to experience that point of view and ride around the lake is great,” Rickman said.
After working as a mental health therapist for 11 years in Russellville, Ala., Wetherbee returned to the camp that had provided her support from her childhood, through adolescence to her young adult life. She became director of public relations for Camp ASCCA in December of 2007, and then director of community relations in 2011. She sees the joy that she experienced in the 1980s in the campers of today.
“The campers look forward to being at Camp ASCCA just like they look forward to Christmas,” Wetherbee said. “Usually you hear campers talking about counting down the days until they get to camp, and I would do that as a child too.”
Tubing, a splash pad, a putt–putt golf course and a water slide have been added in the last ten years. These activities and more are not accessible to people of special needs in other locations. Waterslides usually require steps and ladders. At Camp ASCCA, they are accessible to everyone.
“It (Camp ASCCA) changes thousands of people’s lives every year,” Wetherbee said. “We have thousands of campers that come through each year, and it improves their lives in a way that is hard to explain, but very real.”
More about Camp ASCCA and how to donate to the camp or assist in a child’s summer camp fees can be found on their website, www.campascca.org. More about Wetherbee’s story can be found at www.livinglimbless.com.