EAST MANATEE -- Since it opened in 2001, thousands of young campers with disabilities or serious illnesses have enjoyed a week of rollicking fun at Dream Oaks Camp.
At night, they sleep in cabins, and in the day they enjoy riding horses, swimming, paddling a kayak, and much more. On Wednesday, the theme was having messy fun at circus and carnival day.
Counselors took pies in the face, or a turn in the dunk tank, while 24 campers, ages 7 to 17, played a variety of games, ranging from knocking down bowling pins to bobbing for apples.
Each year, about 600 campers from all over Florida and beyond, but primarily from Manatee and Sarasota counties, take part in camp activities. They get a week of fun, and their families get a week of respite.
Executive Director Susannah Cripe would like to expand camp offerings to disabled young adults 18 to 35, and maybe even older.
"Let everyone come out and have fun," Cripe
said. "There is really no camp out there for that age group."
Campers' families could come to Bradenton and enjoy a week at the beach on Anna Maria Island, she noted. Camp started this season on June 23 and wraps up Aug. 8.
Davis Fulghum, who will be a senior at Palmetto High School this fall, is working at Dream Oaks as a lifeguard this summer.
"The campers bring a smile to my face every day," Fulghum said. "They bring joy to everyone. They teach you something about yourself."
Other Dream Oaks staff members are drawn from hundreds of miles away.
Chloe Cooper, a graduate of Letourneau University in Texas, is in her first year as program director. Jess Mancini is a student at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and serves as a counselor. Camp director Tammi Harvey is a teacher in Boone, N.C.
"I love it. It's been a really great experience," Cooper said.
"This a wonderful place. Every camper gets to do every activity that they might not otherwise have an opportunity to do," Harvey said.
Bradenton attorney Eddie Mulock founded the nonprofit Foundation for Dreams, which runs Dream Oaks Camp, after meeting children with serious illnesses. At the time, Mulock was in the hospital preparing to receive a heart transplant.
The Havana Nights Party and Tournament Fore Dreams golf tourney, set for Aug. 21-22 at IMG Academy Golf Club in Bradenton, is the Foundation for Dreams' largest fundraiser of the year. For more information, call 941-746-5659.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.