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Article of Interest - Summer Camp

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For Years, YWCA Pool Has Been Their Special Haven For the Summer
Dominic Adams, Bay City Times, July 19, 2005
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Bobbi Kemerer's 6-year-old son, Jordan, has Fragile X Syndrome.

The disorder causes autistic behavior, making it hard for Jordan to learn to talk.

But he has one word down pat. It's "pool."

His enthusiasm for swimming is all due to Camp Meadows, a local camp for kids like Jordan who have special needs. The camp is in its 25th year and has been run by Diane Rapson Gabil, a veteran special education teacher.

"He is just learning to talk and he always says pool. It's helping him to interact with kids," Kemerer said of the camp.

Kemerer's son is one of 13 children who have been gathering three days a week at the YWCA on Midland Road. Jordan and other campers are treated to arts and crafts, recreational and physical fitness activities - and Jordan's favorite - daily pool time.

Rapson Gabil, who taught special education for 32 years at Bangor Edison Elementary School, said this is all part of a child's summer experience.

"These kids need to be able to say 'I'm going to camp,' and they need to have that experience," she said. "I figure through 25 years we have probably reached around 200 families in the Bay-Arenac area."

This year, Rapson Gabil tried something different. Instead of having campers swim during community pool time, she reversed it, inviting the community in during camp hours.

The small change has been a big hit for people like Bay City resident Joan Sabourin. She took a liking to one little girl.

"I love swimming with the kids and Ashton (Hugo) has taken my heart," Sabourin said. "I said 'Are you a fish,' and she looked at me and said, 'No, mermaid."'

It is heart-warming stories such as these that Rapson Gabil said keep her coming back year after year.

She said although she has a special place in her heart for all the children she teaches, some of her favorites would be ones who have Down syndrome.

"In my world Down's kids are God's children," Rapson Gabil said. "They really show you what's important."

Lori Covaleski's 7-year-old son, Nathan, has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism.

Covaleski, a Bay City resident, said it helps that Nathan can go right into the camp after school ends for summer.

"For him and his particular illness it helps to keep him in a routine," she said. "If he doesn't keep a routine, it's hard when he goes back."

Amy Grillo's son, Mike, has attended Camp Meadows for at least five years. Both Mike and Grillo's daughter, Emily, have autism.

"It's priceless because he loves coming here," Grillo said. "It's priceless to his self-esteem and to his well being."

Mike said he likes coming back to Camp Meadows each year.

"Camp Meadows rocks," he gleamed after spending an hour swimming on Monday.

As the six-week camp wraps up this week, Rapson Gabil reflects on how much it has meant to her.

"It keeps me humble," she said. "I think the one thing I really gain from it is that I learn more from the kids than they do from me because they act so honestly."

Those interested in volunteering, donating money to the camp or wanting more information may call the YWCA at 686-4800.


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