Many groups of kids with life-threatening illnesses enjoy a free summer camp in Livermore, all thanks to the Taylor Family Foundation. One of the groups comes from the Exceptional Needs Network (ENN).
The kids have a lot of fun interacting with other kids with similar illnesses. But it is also important for their families.
"There are very few recreational opportunities for children with severe developmental delay and there are very few opportunities for respite for the parents," said Don Bender, president of ENN. "You're managing behavior, dealing with needs and you have no control of your schedule."
The ENN kids respond well to animals, like those with the SMARTdogs.org organization.
"Unconditional love. They warm up, they'll talk to the dogs where sometimes they won't talk to people," said Barbara Irwin of SMARTdogs.org.
Horses are brought every summer by Peggy James who runs Hoofprints on the Heart Adaptive Riding Center in Livermore.
Fourteen-year-old Bryana Hill loves the animals more than anything at camp. We first met her when she was just 9 years old and kind of shy. But not anymore.
"My mom is going to be happy now," said Bryanna with a smile about her experience of being on television.
"When you put a child who is lacking their core strength on the horse, you are taking their weak legs off of them and putting them on the horse, which mimics our walk," said James. "And they now are walking for that child and they are giving them confidence in things and they're being able to see the world in a way they have never seen before."
Volunteers with Hoofprints on the Heart spend hours with the special needs children and the horses.
"I feel very, very happy," said 13-year-old Lexi Clappin. "I feel like I'm doing something to help change them."
"Camp is more fun than being home," said 13-year-old Bailey Olsen.
Bailey's counselor, 20-year-old Joey Bruno, is in his second summer session with ENN. "It's such a great experience having the kids come and have a good time," said Bruno.
Twenty-year-old Phil Wilson is a college student who found his calling after working as a counselor with special needs kids.
"I'm studying child psychology and early childhood development," said Wilson.
"In this year where the fundraising is going to be the least, we have a greater need than we've ever had," explained Elaine Taylor with the Taylor Family Foundation.
The recession caused this to be the most challenging year for fundraising in the Taylor Family Foundation's 19-year history. They chose to cancel their big annual fundraiser, "Day in the Park," and are now trying smaller efforts.
"Everything from coins for campers and jars out in every store that you can imagine," said Taylor.
Elaine and Barry Taylor are also hoping that 1,000 people will donate $1,000 each so Camp Arroyo can remain free to thousands of children with different illnesses. It's a win-win situation for everyone.
"Work hard and come to this camp," said Bryanna. "It's super fun!"
"I've had a thousand different jobs, but this is the only job that really feels good," said Wilson. "The kids make me smile every day."
- Taylor Family Foundation (www.ttff.org)
- Hoofprints on the Heart (www.hotharc.org)
- S.M.A.R.T. Dogs, Inc. (www.smartdogs.org)
- Exceptional Needs Network (www.ennetwork.org)