Volunteers help make Camp Arroyo an exceptional experience

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Volunteers help make Camp Arroyo an exceptional experience
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An organization that provides a free summer camp for children with life-threatening illnesses relies on the help of other groups for enrichment programs.

LIVERMORE, Calif. (KGO) -- A local organization that provides a free summer camp for children with life-threatening illnesses relies on the help of other groups for enrichment programs.

ABC7 News looks at some of the volunteers who help the Taylor Family Foundation make its camp a memorable experience.

"Python Ron" brings his traveling educational program to Camp Arroyo in Livermore each summer to give the kids a hands-on learning experience about snakes.

They get to sit on a big, bad motorbike and take pictures, thanks to Marty Seagraves, who leads what he calls "The Autism Army." The father of an autistic child prints more than 100 pictures at each camp.

Kids with Down syndrome or autism or other different abilities can have fun at camp with kids just like them, through a variety of experiences. The group of youngsters comes to Camp Arroyo through the Exceptional Needs Network, or ENN for short. They love the therapy dogs from the Canine Comfort program, from the Valley Humane Society in Pleasanton.

Camper Brianna Hill is 19 years old and loves the Valley Humane Society so much she became a volunteer. I first met her at camp when she was just 9. She knows she has autism and has made tremendous progress. She says camp helps a lot.

"Some of the students have different abilities, disabilities to work with, so like some of them are working on special skills. They need a little help. The counselors always make sure we have the best care here," Hill said.

Ian Mosier is with the Pacific Leadership Institute in San Francisco. Teams show up every year at camp, helping climbers with different abilities, even though the climbing wall is intimidating.

"When they see one of their fellow campers climb, they like realize, 'Wow, there's a lot of things may I think are not possible, that I'm capable of," Mosier said.

"We couldn't be successful without those fun programs for the kids. On top of it, they customize everything they do and get out of the box, every single time they come to camp. We don't pay for these services and that is part of the amazing partnership and relationship we have with these organizations," Angie Carmignani from the Taylor Family Foundation said.

I caught up with 16-year-old Josh Perry for a quick horseback ride. I met him at camp last year and we talked about why he loves camp so much. His family is deeply involved with the Livermore Rodeo Foundation. His sisters teach campers and some adults how to rope a steer.

"He has his good days and his bad days, just like anybody does, but he really enjoys coming up to camp, swimming and eating tacos," Josh's dad, Don Perry, from the Livermore Rodeo said.

The horses are provided by Livermore's Reins In Motion, founded by Peggy James, whose son is autistic. Reins In Motion instructors have seen remarkable changes in autistic kids who stay with the horse program.

"A lot of times when the kids are on the horse, it helps to break down some of their barriers. So instead of thinking about other things, being internalized, the horse brings it out, and they start making sounds," Dave West from Reins In Motion said.

"We've just got kids who were completely non-verbal, that are now speaking and a lot of it is as they're on the horse," riding instructor Katy Kempton said.

"You just see their smiles and their enthusiasm, it's just awesome to see," Kathleen Minser, president of the Livermore Rodeo Foundation said.

One young lady, who wasn't too sure about even getting on a horse, gains her confidence as she rides along. That's why the programs at Camp Arroyo make such a difference in the lives of these children.

The Taylor Family Foundation's annual fundraiser at Camp Arroyo is this Sunday. ABC7 News anchors Cheryl Jennings and Dan Ashley will be there. Event information: http://www.ttff.org