MONROE - The sounds of splashing and joyful shrieks fill the air at Holiday Camp. They're coming from a swimming pool so new that the handrails barely show the smudge of fingertips, and the tile lining the wheelchair ramp is a bright, glossy blue.
The pool - which is solar-heated and completely handicapped-accessible - is just one aspect of a recent renovation project at Monroe County's Holiday Camp, a summer camp for disabled youth that is owned by the Monroe County Intermediate School District.
Holiday Camp on North Custer Road west of Monroe has been in operation in its current location since 1956 and became a nonprofit organization in 1961.
Over the years, the grounds have continued to expand as surrounding land has been annexed, and the camp now spans 3.5 acres of green hills and lush trees.
The original property housed Holiday Camp for more than 50 summers, but the facilities were ill-equipped to serve disabled youths. Staff members had to lift children out of their wheelchairs into the pool, and the uneven, grassy terrain made it difficult for campers to navigate.
Talks about renovations began nine years ago, and plans finally came to fruition in the fall of 2006, thanks to donations from community organizations and individuals. Key gifts included $100,000 from the Monroe County Intermediate School District Board of Education and $10,000 designated for pool renovation from the DTE Energy Foundation. Overall, renovations cost more than $500,000.
"I thought this was going to be a tough year for donations because of the economy," said Carol Mushing, board president of Holiday Camp Inc. "But everyone in the community is donating , and they enable us to offer disabled children and adults the opportunity to attend camp at a very low cost."
Each three-week session costs campers and their parents $100, but donations from charities allow tuition to be waived for families who cannot afford to pay. The camp holds three sessions each summer, two for campers ages 6-26 and one for adults.
"People with disabilities can come out of their shell here," said Michael Weipert, vice president of the board of Holiday Camp. "This program has become the gem of Monroe County."
Hundreds of volunteers from the Monroe County community help to serve food, provide entertainment, and serve as counselors at Holiday Camp, said Charlene Jenkins, school district board president.
A bathhouse adjacent to the pool now has fully accessible showers and separate bathrooms for boys and girls. Originally, there was only one co-ed bathroom.
The renovated Holiday Camp also boasts an air-conditioned arts and crafts room, spacious, barrier-free rest rooms, a lodge with widened doorways, and fresh coats of paint on camp buildings.
"Now it's truly a camp experience," said Don Spencer, superintendent of the school district.
A highlight of the renovation is a paved walkway that winds throughout the property.
"This is the first time I feel unrestricted and able to explore the whole camp freely," said Nick Hutchinson, 23, who uses a wheelchair. He has been camping there the last 12 summers.
A rededication ceremony yesterday featured a performance by Rachel McCleery, 20, the 2007 Miss Monroe County, who has been volunteering at Holiday Camp since she was 14. She sang a song titled "Opening Doors," which was written by Angie Snell, music therapist for the school district. Several campers provided lively accompaniment on hand chimes.
"This is not just a summer camp for kids to have fun on their own," Ms. McCleery said. "It's about camaraderie, friendship, and interaction."
This summer, 150 campers will wade in the pool, play kickball, and chat on picnic benches.
"The renovations have made this a wonderfully beautiful place, and the beauty is deeper than a fresh coat of paint or new windows or a new door," said Dean Yarger, the camp director. "They've made the camp more accessible to everyone."
Contact Laura Bennett at: