A cloudy day at Laurel Hill State Park in Somerset County couldn’t dampen the fun for campers and volunteers at Camp PARC, a recreational summer camp for children and adults with mental disabilities.
“These people are special, but they’re much like you and I,” said Camp Director Ted Risch.
PARC stands for “people always responding with compassion”: a lesson Risch hopes everyone takes home.
“They learn to respect everyone no matter what challenge they have. They also learn to look at special needs individuals as real people. They have talents, desires, wants. They love others and they like to laugh. They have feelings. They like to cry sometimes,” Risch said.
Camp PARC has been around for 58 years. Risch has worked there for 52 of them.
“I started out as a junior counselor in 8th grade and I’ve been coming back every year since,” said Risch.
Each year, Camp PARC chooses a different theme. This year was “country.” Campers practiced their farming skills by planting flowers to take home.
Campers also spent the week playing games, sports, going on hayrides and playing with barn animals. Counselors and campers said they each had a favorite activity.
“Story time, arts and crafts,” said Rachel Noel, a camper from Altoona.
“Seeing how excited the campers get about everything. It doesn’t seem like much to sit around the campfire and tell stories, but to them it means the world,” said Maura Trabold, a junior counselor.
Although volunteers started packing up before camp ends on Saturday, campers enjoyed their last few hours of fun. They said they’re already looking forward to next year.
“We hear from parents as soon as they get home they hear, ‘When’s Camp PARC again?'” Risch said.