DYLAN GOETZ, Grand Haven Tribune • AUG 7, 2018 AT 12:00 PM
WEST OLIVE — Taylor Antoski has a unique perspective on helping people with special needs. Not only is she the executive director of Camp Sunshine — one of the largest all-inclusive ability and disability camps in West Michigan — her siblings are on the autism spectrum, as well.
“As a sibling, I never thought there would be a place outside of our home where people would care for and unconditionally love and accept people like my own siblings,” Antoski said. “I always dreamt of what a world would be like to not have to explain to people that it is OK to play with my siblings.”
People ages 12-50 are eligible for Camp Sunshine, which takes place along the Lake Michigan shore at Camp Blodgett in West Olive. From 23 campers at the first camp 36 years ago, the program has grown to a total of 276 campers at four locations.
Camp Sunshine is a four-day camp with two summer sessions, and campers do everything from archery to a low-ropes course and talent show.
On July 30, campers were assisted by officers from the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety to swim in Lake Michigan. Since some of the campers are wheelchair-bound, firefighters helped get them down to the beach and into the water with adaptive chairs.
“For some of our campers, it is the first time they have gone swimming or put their toes in one of the Great Lakes,” Antoski said. “They loved it. They were swimming, doing watersports and had a volleyball game going on.”
After returning to Camp Blodgett, the campers participated in a talent show. This is one of the many activities where each camper gets the spotlight and participates.
Each camper has at least one counselor at Camp Sunshine. Most volunteers and counselors are local high school students who want to pursue a career in special education.
Each cabin has a mentor — an experienced counselor who provides assistance wherever it is needed.
“It’s a one-to-one ratio,” Antoski said. “We provide experiential training to our counselors who come from specific programs and schools across the country.”
Camp Sunshine has different themes for each year during the sessions. This year, campers were treated like “Stars” and were taken to a dance in a surprise limo ride. As they arrived at Camp Blodgett, campers got to walk down the red carpet.