By Mark Stevens

From cruising Chautauqua Lake in a pontoon boat to singing “Sweet Caroline” around a roaring fire, dozens of people with developmental disabilities recently enjoyed an exciting few days at the YMCA’s Camp Onyahsa in Dewittville.

“It was a tremendous success. I can’t say enough about our staff and Camp Onyahsa staff. It just all comes together and it is a great week,” said Karen Silzle, TRC Residence Coordinator and Camp Co-Chair.

About 49 campers, including 10 from the community who either live with their families or on their own, took part in three fun-filled days of arts and crafts, rock painting and swimming, as well as nature walks, sports and boat rides. Camp Week also featured the ever-popular dance night. The first day included a craft project, dinner and a campfire sing-along. In addition to the campers, members of the Rotary Club of Jamestown took part in the opening day’s activities. Rotary, through a Chautauqua Region Community Foundation grant, helps pay for the three-day experience for TRC and its campers.

“This is a fantastic situation for them. You see faces light up like you never would believe. The bonfire and sing-along kicks off what can be three very exciting days for them. This is a great chance for them to have some great, old-fashion fun,” said Randy Sweeney, Rotary Club of Jamestown board member. “We’re just delighted we can make this happen. The Rotary Club is constantly looking for ways that they can give back to the community, and this is different. This is a little different than the typical thing that we do. It’s pretty unique, and it’s special.”

“To see the joy on everyone’s faces and everyone have so much fun, I just love it. This is their vacation for some of them, and this is such a great experience. To see everyone just laughing and having such a great time, this is such a fun experience,” said Denise Jones, TRC’s Executive Director. “I am very grateful to the Rotary Club. Some of these people could not afford to come to camp without those funds.”

Maria Jacobson has been attending camp for about four years.

“I really like it because my parents come up,” said Maria. “And I like all the fun activities to do. I like sports, nature, singing, and dancing. I get to see friends.”

“I think of this as one, big, happy family; a group of friends out having fun, doing what campers do best,” said Mike Ostrye, who just wrapped up his second year at camp. “It’s very exciting to be back. I get to see my friends. It’s like home away from home. I like it all.”

And so does the Onyahsa staff. During the three days, about a dozen staff members help run the programs. Camp leaders say the event is a really nice collaboration that they look forward to all year.

“Everyone is really energized and that’s after nine weeks of resident camp,” said Jon O’Brian, Camp Onyahsa Director. “It’s great to help another organization meet our collaborative mission to allow people of all backgrounds and abilities to enjoy this beautiful site on Lake Chautauqua to engage in social activities, physical activities and also learn some things.”

Camp organizers at TRC also value the partnership, as the campers are already looking forward to next year.

“It’s just an opportunity a lot of the folks wouldn’t have,” said Karen. “It’s the best week of work I have. It’s just awesome to see how happy they are and how much fun and enjoyment they get out of their time at Camp Onyahsa.”