GRAPE - With the assistance of an older helper last week, Molly Bruck spent a few minutes silently making cupcakes in the makeshift kitchen of an old timber-frame and fieldstone fishing lodge along the northern banks of the River Raisin.
But while the shy 7-year-old was making batter this summer, she was also making memories at a very special camp where Monroe County's charitable streak gets transformed each year into thousands of smiles.
Founded in the late 1950s by local philanthropic and community icons like Arthur Lesow and Meyer Rosen, Holiday Camp is a little slice of summer heaven for those who face other, more daunting challenges on a more regular basis.
"I look forward to it all year," said 16-year-old Justin Batdorf, of Erie, who has spent three weeks in each of the last three summers at the camp with his brother, Ian. "It's fun out here."
Each summer, hundreds of youngsters and adults with special needs from across Monroe County get an opportunity to spend a few weeks doing what many other kids take for granted: playing, swimming, canoeing, playing kickball and other games, making crafts, eating snacks. They are able to do so in large part because of the generosity of a community that spends most of the year raising money to underwrite the activities of the charitable summer camp.
Although the land is owned by the Monroe County Intermediate School District, Holiday Camp is operated by a non-profit agency that collects donations and holds charitable events throughout the year to pay for it. It costs about $50,000 annually to run the three, multi-week programs at the camp, said Sue Miller, a spokeswoman for the ISD.
"It's a very cool place," said Ms. Miller. "It's just amazing to me all of the people that contribute each year to make it happen. We have one group [of local businessmen] that puts on a golf outing each year and raises about half of what it costs us to run the Holiday Camp. I don't know what we'd do without them."
This year, Holiday Camp has a new man in charge in Dean Yeager, an ISD employee who spent much of his 13 years in special education working in the Mason Consolidated School District. He's also been a veteran of Holiday Camp, having worked for the last several summers at the camp.
"You're always part of camp," Mr. Yeager said. "It doesn't take long to be here to love the place. And not every community can say they have a resource like this."
The eight weeks that the camp operates each summer is split up into three sessions. The first two sessions are for campers from ages 6-26, while the third is reserved for adult campers over age 26. Parents and guardians of the campers pay a $100 fee for the three-week experience, but for those who can't afford the expense, it is underwritten by local charities, Mr. Yeager said.
"I've never had someone that's been selected to go that couldn't because of [the entrance fee]," Mr. Yeager said, adding that there is a waiting list for potential campers. "For those that can't afford it, we find a way to get it done."