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Special-needs children, others shine during Wacky Day

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

On Monday morning at the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center, Venus Sullivan, a rising fifth grader at Smith Elementary in Rex, waited patiently as Bobby Boone, a camp counselor with Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department's Therapeutic Division, painted whiskers on her face.

While Sullivan and other children in Camp All 4 One crowded around a face-painting station, other students participated in three-legged races, hop-ball races, musical chairs, and bingo. While rapper V.I.C.'s single, "Get Silly," pumped in the background, camp counselors supervised games and served popcorn in humorous outfits, wearing an assortment of funny ties, rubber noses, fake wigs, and mismatched shoes.

Following its inclusive nature, the summer camp included children with special needs, along with others.

Shawna Nelms, manager of the Therapeutic Division of Parks and Recreation, believes the inclusiveness of the camp -- the only summer camp of its kind in the county -- is its greatest strength. With the camp coming to an end this Thursday, Camp All 4 One celebrated with "Wacky Day," a chance for the students to cut loose and be themselves.

"We are the only inclusive recreation site, because we have general population and special-needs kids under one roof," said Nelms. "I feel like the kids are exposed to a lot more on both ends. These kids are honestly a lot more accepting than people give them credit for."

Nelms, who works primarily with special-needs children, said many friendships had been forged between special-needs and other children through the camp. On Monday, students bonded through activities such as the "Mr. and Mrs. Wacky and Tacky" contest, in which an award was given to the male and female camp participant with the most outrageous costume.

"You'd be amazed by how much general population [children] like to interact with special-needs kids," said Taurus Gamble, program coordinator for the Therapeutic Division of the Parks and Recreation Department. "They actually cater [to] the special-needs kids more than our staff."

Fallon Burgess, therapeutic recreation supervisor for the department, said Wacky Day is a memorable way to bring closure to the camp, which took place last summer at the Virginia Gray Recreation Center in Riverdale.

Wacky Day is a chance "for the kids to get out all that silliness that they are feeling," said Burgess. "It's a really good memory of summer camp in general. They will tell their parents about it, and definitely come back next year."