SHERRILLS FORDâ€” When campers come to Camp Dogwood, they can expect to leave with not just a relaxing vacation, but with lifelong friendships.
The camp for visually-impaired people, located on Lake Norman and sponsored by the North Carolina Lions Foundation, runs from May 29 to Aug. 27 with a week off from July 10 to July 16.
â€œThey have a blast while they are here,â€ said Sandy Lazenby, camp director. â€œFor some of our people, itâ€™s the only vacation they get.â€
The camp has 12 six-day sessions for visually-impaired adults from ages 18 – 90. Campers arrive on Sunday afternoon and leave the following Saturday morning.
Camp Dogwood also offers a week for visually-impaired youth from July 17 to July 23.
There is never a dull moment for the campers. Activities run constantly, morning, noon and evening.
Each morning starts with the raising of the flag and devotional time.
Waterfront activities include tubing, skiing, fishing, swimming and pontoon boat rides.
Campers participate in crafts and off-campus trips to Wal-Mart, horseback riding, bowling and putt-putt golf.
The camp also has a nature center, with donated taxidermy.
There is no slowing down at night, as there is bingo, Camp Dogwood trivia, dances and evening cruises on Lake Norman.
The counselors give out awards on Friday nights to each camper at the end of each weekâ€™s session.
â€œI like making friends and seeing people,â€ said Doug Rowland, a camper for 10 years. â€œThereâ€™s always something to do.â€
The camp, established in 1967 by the Lions Foundation after some visually impaired people came looking for a place to go on vacation, cultivates lifelong friendships; many campers come back and meet friends each summer.
â€œThe fellowship they get from each other and being with people who understand them is so important,â€ said Lazenby. â€œItâ€™s a week where they can let their hair down and have fun. We really pamper them and spoil them while they are here.â€
Of the 646 campers in 2004, only 79 were first-timers.
â€œI first came here a long time ago,â€ said camper James M. Roberson. â€œThey have good food and good people.
â€œEverything with the Lions Club is real good,â€ he said. â€œI came back because I missed it and now Iâ€™m back for good.â€
The unique atmosphere of being with people with the same lifestyle creates a connection between the campers.
â€œThey all share that common bond of being visually-impaired,â€ Lazenby said. â€œThey learn a lot just by being with each other.â€
Even if they are new to Camp Dogwood, campers find they fit in almost immediately.
â€œI always tell them that even if they donâ€™t know anyone, they will be leaving with 70 some new friends,â€ Lazenby said.
The camp employs 16 staff members, including some who are visually-impaired. The majority are from North Carolina and the U.S., but others hail from outside the country. The camp also has many volunteers.
Although each staff member is trained at orientation to assist campers, they are not caretakers.
Campers needing a caretaker, such as a spouse, can accompany them for an extra charge of $125.
The cost for a week is $475. With the help of the Lions Foundation, North Carolina campers go for $85.
Out-of-state campers are accepted on a space available basis at the regular price.
Lazenby has hopes for adding a outdoor cement bowling alley and possibly a putt-putt course in the future.
The camp staff gives out surveys to campers asking for feedback to make Camp Dogwood the best it can be.
Right now, the camp is updating its dormitories to make sure campers enjoy themselves to the fullest.
â€œIt is their camp. Itâ€™s for them and their enjoyment,â€ Lazenby said.
For more information about Camp Dogwood call (828) 478-2155, or write to P.O. Box 39, Sherrills Ford, N.C. 28673.
To find out more about the Lions Foundation call (1-800) – 662-7401, or visit www.nclf.org.
by Mary Williams