- Associated Press - Monday, June 29, 2015

WEDGEFIELD, S.C. (AP) - Maggie, 14, is attending camp for the first time this summer at Camp Burnt Gin near Wedgefield, which offers children with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses an opportunity to make new friends, develop recreational skills, become more independent and improve their self-confidence while participating in traditional camp activities.

Maggie can’t walk, but she enjoys swimming in the camp pool and taking part in the other events the camp has to offer.

“I’ve really enjoyed everything about the camp and have already made some friends in the few days I’ve been here,” she said.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control provides the camp for free through private and public funds.

Every summer, more than 450 children from across South Carolina attend the camp. Burnt Gin operates four, six-day sessions for ages 7 through 15, two six-day session for ages 16 to 20 and a four-day camp for ages 21 to 25. The camp’s activities include instructional and recreational swimming, boating, fishing, arts and crafts, sports and games, fine arts and nature study.

“It’s all about inclusiveness, giving everyone an opportunity to enjoy activities the children may not otherwise have access to,” said Marie I. Aimone, camp director. “All of these children have talents - some are natural leaders - and the camp allows for them to develop these skills and grow.”

Aimone said after six days at the camp, the children go back home to their parents more independent and confident.

Thomas, 14, was born with spinal bifida, a condition in which there is an incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord. He has been coming to the camp for four years.

“Camp Burnt Gin has helped me build teamwork skills and to learn to be more independent in certain areas,” Thomas said.

Campers are not the only ones who benefit from the experience, however. About 45 camp counselors are hired each summer. Most of them are college students, considering a career working with special-needs children or in a medical field.

Joshua Harris, an Eastover sophomore at Benedict College majoring in sports management, wants to pursue a career in coaching.

“I want to help others through coaching,” Harris said. “Being a counselor here has helped me to gain patience and to become a better leader. I have also built some great friendships with the campers here.”

Taylor Jahnke, a recent graduate of Sumter High School who planned a career in pediatrics, said after serving as camp counselor this summer, she may shift her career plans to work with children with special needs.

“I wanted an opportunity to work with special-needs children, and being a camp counselor here has been a very rewarding job,” she said.

Counselors, in a ratio of one for every two campers, live with the children in cabins and assist those who require help with their personal needs and participation in different activities. Burnt Gin also has two nurses in residence.

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Information from: The Sumter Item, http://www.theitem.com

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