DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Whether campers are hiking across the campground toward a zip-line or playing chess in the clubhouse, no one gets left out at the Rotary Youth Camp of North Florida.
In its 25th year, the free camp is designed for youths across the entire disability spectrum.
All activities are wheelchair friendly and include swimming, basketball, arts and crafts, science classes, talent shows, rock climbing and the zip-line.
"It doesn't matter if you have a disability," said Joyce Dove, the camp's executive director. "Everybody has a weakness and everybody should play to their strengths. ... Disabled or not disabled, you have a strength."
In her fourth year running the show, Dove said it's all about helping campers find confidence to use in their everyday lives.
"We want them to be able to make friends here, and then when they go other places they'll make friends there because they'll have the confidence of having done it here," she said.
Approaching its final week, the camp is divided into age-based sections. With a nurse always handy, one counselor spends the week with each camper, even sleeping above them in a bunk bed.
Merisauh Gamble, a 17-year-old camp counselor from Tallahassee, said the experience was "thrilling."
"I'm not just letting them have a great week, I'm also having a great week myself," she said.
Gamble, who said she attends a summer camp each year, added that the Rotary Youth Camp has shown her the importance of teamwork — her biggest takeaway from the experience.
Other volunteers include Shelly Neal, a camp director who isn't a member of the Rotary Club but had been with the program "since day one."
Neal, who is deaf, shared that she had also been diagnosed with brain cancer. For her, the camp was about helping the kids become independent and find courage.
"We hire folks with disabilities," she said. "The likelihood that any of these children come across an adult like them is unlikely. So we hire them to make sure they can see themselves (in them) and have aspirations."
In its first year being held at the Tri-State Christian Camp & Retreat Center, the camp costs about $150,000 to fund annually.
Chuck Lawson, a member of the DeFuniak Springs Rotary Club, said there are 50 Rotary clubs across the Panhandle that work together to organize the event.
Registration for next year's camp begins in January 2020.
"We're glad to have the kids, (and) we're glad we can provide them with a great experience," Lawson said. "What more can you do for your fellow man than try to help out."