‘This is their vacation’: Dozens of ill, disabled campers get full week of fun, relaxation at Camp Cheerful

STRONGSVILLE, Ohio -- Dozens of residents from St. Augustine in Cleveland are getting a week off!

Every summer, the residents, who have a range of disabilities and age-related illnesses, get to leave the walls of St. Augustine and go to Camp Cheerful in Strongsville for seven days of fun and relaxation. This year's camp began Sunday.

"This is their vacation," said Mary Gagan, volunteer manager. "These are people who don't have the luxury of nice backyards and gardens and such. So we make sure we get them out here where they can breathe fresh air, where it's a really peaceful, calm environment."

On Monday, 35 to 40 residents were at camp. Some of the residents are overnight campers, who actually spend each night in Camp Cheerful cabins. Others are day campers, and are bused in every morning.

Some of the activities during the week include horseback riding, swimming and arts and crafts. Some campers just like to hang out and relax.

Camp wouldn't happen without the help of several volunteers and staff members. Roughly 20 to 40 volunteers help with activities every day during camp.

"We're all part of one big family, and we love them as if they're our own, and we enjoy having them be part of this camp experience," said Gagan.

The residents of St. Augustine need access to 24/7 medical care. That's covered at camp, too, with nurses and other medical staff on hand at all times.

"Everyone's that here with us have already had a full life," said Gagan. "They've grown up, gone to college, gotten married and had children. Worked, volunteered and everything else under the sun and through no fault of their own, because of some sort of illness or disability, they've ended up at St. Augustine, needing 24/7 access to medical care."

Camp itself is like a medicine for the group. Many of the residents who are normally on anti-anxiety medications don't even ask for them during camp, according to Gagan.

Nurse Sharon Ginley is just one of the medical staff who takes care of campers throughout the week.

"This is the greatest thing that could happen," she said. "There's no other experience like this."

And thanks to the help of several groups and volunteers, the residents get to enjoy it for free.

It costs roughly $22,000 to $25,000 to put on the camp each year. It doesn't cost the residents or their families anything. Much of the funding comes from in-kind donations, monetary donations and donations of meals.

Angels on the Avenue, which is a small group that provides funds for residents, activities and resident outings at St. Augustine, will provide a meal and Bingo for the campers on Tuesday. They've also helped fund their participation in Camp Cheerful.

"When somebody becomes up in age or disabled, life doesn't end," said the group's spokesperson, Joe Dailey. "I don't want to see society discount those people in any way. This is our opportunity to show these people they are important today, tomorrow and for years to come. If sending them to Strongsville, Ohio, for vacation is a great idea, we're behind it."

For nmore on the program, click here. 

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