Breakthroughs Every Day – Camp RAD Provides Pivotal Experiences for Children with Disabilities

Ascending a rock wall for the first time when your young life has been spent in a wheelchair. Cutting up fruit or eating spinach when you previously couldn’t due to food aversions caused by major sensory issues. Playing basketball, swimming, or simply meeting new people when you’ve never done anything like that before.

These are just a few of the individual activities and goals set for each of the campers attending Camp RAD, or Recreation for Adolescents with Disabilities. The program is in its seventh year and serves youth and adults, ages 10-22.

Gavin Colquitt, Ed.D., adapted physical education professor at Georgia Southern in the Department of Health Sciences and Kinesiology, founded the camp in 2012 with professor of recreation and tourism management Brent Wolfe, Ph.D. He and Katy Gregg, Ph.D., child and family development professor in the School of Human Ecology, manage the camp with the assistance of paid and volunteer staff and students.

Few Services for Kids with Disabilities

“I was doing a study comparing the access to community-based services among kids with disabilities between Bulloch County and another urban county in Georgia,” said Colquitt. “It was very clear that there were very few services for kids with disabilities here. So I decided to start a camp for those kids.”

Beginning with a shoestring budget and staffed with volunteers, the camp has come a long way since its inception.

“At our first camp, we only had about five to seven campers. We had a room at the Parks and Recreation Department, and I bought some supplies and snacks,” said Colquitt.

Now the camp hosts 25 campers at the Recreation Activity Center on Georgia Southern’s Statesboro Campus, and branched out this summer to Effingham County with another 25 campers hosted at the Parks and Recreation Department in Rincon, Georgia.

Camp RAD has a very individualized curriculum. In preparation, Colquitt and his team spend 30 to 40 hours on the plan for each camper, developing a comprehensive model that tailors each individual activity for each child.

“We pull all of their latest speech, physical, occupational therapy goals, and if they have any behavioral health, mental health goals, we pull those,” said Colquitt. “We get permission from the parents to access their child’s education plan from the school district. Then we pull all that together to create individualized goals for each child.”

Life-changing Experiences

Paula Palmer is mother to Jake, a camper that has participated every year since the camp’s founding. Jake’s deficits include autism and muscle atrophy. She’s seen firsthand the positive effects the camp has had on her son.

“Jake loves the camp so much. He has changed and grown every year that he has gone,” said Palmer. “Now he makes friends easily. He never could do that before. He   has food aversions due to sensory issues,   and last summer he actually ate raw spinach and strawberries for the first time. That doesn’t sound like much, but for him it’s a huge step forward.”

Taylor Forney is a three-year veteran working at the camp. She graduated from Georgia Southern in 2018 with a degree in child and family development. Forney was last year’s camp coordinator and is the director of the Effingham County camp. She sees progress every day with the campers.

“So our campers are having fun, but  they’re also learning how to interact with peers and how to be a part of a community,” said Forney. “It makes me happy to see they’re having a good time and feeling accepted in a community that normally they’re excluded from.”

It’s a rewarding experience for everyone involved.

“The student volunteers just rave about how awesome camp is. And you know they’re so glad that they did it,” said Forney. “It is such a life-changing experience.”

– Liz Walker