Adapting to Needs


The Texas Lions Camp

Kerrville, TX

Sessions: Nine one-week summer sessions

Cost: No charge for physical disabled or diabetic children

Age: 7-16 years

Nestled deep in the south-central hilly part of the Lone Star State, and only an hour from San Antonio, sits the historic exurbia town of Kerrville. This mid-size community has a river running through it, a thousand hills around it, a bounty of exotic wildlife in it, and the Texas Lions Camp next to it.

This 515-acre hill country property was charted in 1949 as a children’s camp, and has been focusing on altering lives ever since.

Lions Share

Taking claim of being the world’s largest service organization with 2 million members and over 30,000 in Texas, the camp is funded directly by the Lions Club. And, because there are Lions Clubs, there are Lions Camps. One exists in Australia and there are over 30 others worldwide with some of the larger camps operating in Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Texas.

In Texas each summer about 1,500 kids get to experience a camp that would typically cost between $1,100-$1,600 per week. However, with the generosity of the Texas Section of Lions Clubs International, and their many capital campaigns, the Texas Lions Camp allows children who have physical disabilities, Type 1 diabetes, and cancer to attend at no charge.

His business card reads “Serving Special Children Since 1949,” and 15-year veteran executive director Stephen Mabry oversees a truly special program. The camp’s philosophy proactively combines children with all types of disabilities together into one diverse group.

“In life they will be mixed with all types of people, and our goal is to take them where they are and increase their self esteem,” Mabry says. “It is not uncommon to see children who can’t hear helping children who can’t walk.”

Another philosophical facet is boosting the confidence of campers by giving them daily challenges so that they learn to adopt a “can do” life attitude. Challenges like swimming or horseback riding may seem ordinary to some, but when accomplished by a child with special needs, it allows him to think differently about everyday life.

Mabry and his staff would like campers to be reprogrammed in their thinking and they give children the opportunity to focus on their abilities by removing any obstacles that keep children from succeeding.

For instance, there are special high back saddles so that kids with stability problems can still ride a horse. Also, the swimming pool starts at zero-depth and slopes down so that kids don’t have to drop straight into the water. Also on site is a handicapped-accessible 3/4-mile concrete nature trail winding through the woods.

Other adaptive equipment includes pulley systems on the ropes course, so that children without upper body strength can still climb the 25-foot repelling wall.

Mabry realizes that conventional camps may not feel adequately equipped to deal with some of the special needs presented by campers who have handicaps, but encourages directors to seek ways to include.

And, if a camp has not faced this issue, they probably will at some point. In most instances it is against the law to categorically discriminate against an individual based on their handicap.

Support Network

Even though it’s only a highway width away from the city limits, the camp delivers a natural outdoor wilderness ambiance. Since many campers are from the inner city or have never experienced camping because of disabilities, the program integrates many outdoors encounters.

In contrast, the infrastructure of the Texas Lions camp is modern and up to date. The buildings are comfortable and well maintained, including eight air-conditioned bunkhouses and minimal obstacles that would prevent a child from accessing other parts of camp.

The 400-seat cafeteria is equipped with a state of the art kitchen, current food service amenities, and spacious dining with a hill country view.

The recreation facilities such as the junior Olympic sized pool, the high and low ropes course, sports lake with specially adaptive boat launch, playgrounds, outdoor rodeo arena, indoor riding arena, and miniature golf course, all require constant changes and upgrades.

Consequently, an official capital campaign was conducted in 1995 to raise and spend over $5 million in order to operate according to regulations mandated by the ADA.

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