Camp Happiness campers enjoy fun and games at annual Field Day

It was a “Totally ‘80s” experience for campers and counselors during the annual Camp Happiness Field Day. That was the theme for this year’s festivities.

About three dozen campers wore their best ’80s hairdos, tie-dyed shirts and accessories as they paraded around the grounds of the Center for Pastoral Leadership, sang, danced, played games, enjoyed lunch and crafts. The camp is a program of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland’s Disability Services and Ministries.

(See photo gallery above.)

Camp consists of six one-week sessions – June 20 to July 29 this year — at two sites: the CPL in Wickliffe (East) and St. Thomas More Parish in Brooklyn (West). Door-to-door transportation is available for campers who need it.

Marilyn Scott, director of Disability Services and Ministries, said campers are ages 5-21 with a variety of disabilities, both intellectual and developmental. Activities are modified so campers can experience a summer of fun. She also said peer counselors – campers who are 18 or older – were hired this year to help with the program. They are paid and have the opportunity to receive training that can help them with future employment, Scott added.

“Every Friday there is a joint field trip that includes campers from both sites,” she said. Field Day on July 22 was one of the events. The last field trip will be a picnic at Edgewater Park on July 29 with their families. She said many campers participate in the program annually and enjoy it. They form friendships with campers from their site and the second site and look forward to Friday field trips when all campers are together, she added.

Scott credits those who support the Catholic Charities Annual Appeal, the Order of Alhambra, Knights of Columbus and fundraisers for Disability Services and Ministries for the success of the program. “Without their support, this wouldn’t be possible,” she added.

The Order of Alhambra has supported Camp Happiness since its beginning 56 years ago. Camp Happiness is based on parent input and individual needs of the campers, Scott said.

The COVID-19 pandemic posed some challenges for Disability Services and Ministries, Scott noted, but they were able to adapt and continue some programs – including the 2020 camp season – virtually. In-person camp returned last summer.

Field Day began with prayer, the national anthem, a song and introductions before campers and counselors marched around the CPL grounds behind a banner for their camp location – East or West. After the parade, campers played games and drew on the sidewalk with chalk while DJ Kris Koch played music.

After a break, campers played more games and enjoyed a picnic lunch prepared and provided by the Order of Alhambra. “This is great,” one camper said, as she munched on a hot dog, hamburger and chips.

Moving into the Founder’s Room, campers began preparing for their site’s skit, a dance to a popular ’80s tune. Lauren Mailey, camp director and program director for Disability Services and Ministries, introduced each site. East campers performed their dance skit to Devo’s “Whip It” and the West campers, led by their counselors, danced to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

After the musical skits, campers rotated among activity/craft tables where they could make scratch art pictures, bracelets, necklaces and picture frames for instant photos taken before a fun backdrop.

DJ Kris played ’80s tunes and encouraged the group to dance. They did the chicken dance, a conga line, limbo and a “freeze dance,” where they stopped dancing and froze in position when the music stopped. “Stay like that and I’ll be back next year,” Koch teased, as the dancers encouraged him to stay.

“I’ve been doing this for a few years,” Koch said of his gig with Disability Services and Ministries. He learned about the program and its adapted dances from a story in the diocesan magazine, Northeast Ohio Catholic. A 1989 John Carroll University graduate and a St. Ambrose, Brunswick parishioner, Koch said he works full time as a DJ and enjoys his time with Disability Services and Ministries.

Alhambrans distributed participation medals to each camper. The West campers won an award for best skit and the East campers won the most spirited award.

Scott said the Alhambrans have been involved with the camp program for more than three decades. They also assist with other Disability Services and Ministries programs, including the beloved Journey to Bethlehem Mass in December.

The Order of Alhambra is an international fraternal organization of Catholic men and women 18 and older that is dedicated to assisting those who are intellectually disabled or handicapped.

Click here to learn more about the Order of Alhambra. More information about Disability Services and Ministries can be found here.

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