Volunteers vital at Keller’s Lake
ARC day camp for developmentally disabled
By John Faucher
Nearly 60 years ago the Girl Scouts sponsored a special camp for people with developmental disabilities at Camp-Vic-To-Rae just west of New London.
The first year there were 13 campers involved.
Within a few years, the Waupaca County ARC took over sponsorship of the summer camp and moved it to Keller’s Lake County Park near Marion. There they could accommodate more campers and volunteers from throughout the county.
The weeklong day camp for the developmentally disabled has grown and serves up to 125 special campers during the first week of August each year.
Camp Director Cindy Carrick, of Clintonville, first volunteered 55 years ago.
The experience left such an impression on her that Carrick spent a lifelong career in special education.
She said Keller’s Lake Day Camp runs entirely through donations and a dedicated group of volunteers.
Many of them, like Carrick, return year after year.
“Without our volunteers this special week couldn’t happen,” said Carrick.
Campers begin arriving on buses daily at 9:30 a.m. and stay until 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
After opening ceremonies, campers join into units, or smaller groups.
Each unit has a leader helping coordinate volunteers with campers. Unit leaders also help communicate between units and facilitate meals and certain group times.
“We give them all sorts of activities to choose from and then it’s totally up to them what they want to do. It’s their week of fun in the sun,” said Carrick.
Activities may include swimming, boating, basketball, volleyball, fishing, and crafts. Others may choose to sit and relax or take a stroll in the shade with a friend they haven’t seen for a while.
Rebounding from pandemic
In 2020, COVID-19 forced the cancellation of Keller’s Lake Day Camp. That was the first time in Carrick’s 55 years they had to cancel.
“Covid was hard on so many of the campers,” she said.
“Some of these folks have little else to do, especially since the workshop in Manawa closed,” explained Carrick.
This year 85 campers attended.
Carrick said a few remained away yet this year due to lingering concerns.
The Waupaca County ARC also holds an annual Halloween dance, Christmas party and Valentine’s dance.
Twenty-three-year-old volunteer Destiny Kent, of New London, said nearly everyone’s highlight is the week of Keller’s Lake Day Camp.
“You can just tell it makes their year to come out here,” she said.
Kent first signed up to be a volunteer with a friend when she was 14 years old and she’s been back every year since with the exception of 2020.
“My first year I just thought it was very cool to see how unique every camper is and how many talents they have,” said Kent.
“If I see some of them later on in the year, at the store, or somewhere else, they’ll always ask about camp,” she said.
Volunteer Ron Schoen agreed.
“A week after they leave, they’re asking when they are going to come again,” he said with a chuckle. “These kids just think it’s the greatest thing in the world.”
Schoen explained how he became a volunteer at Keller’s Lake Day Camp 22 years earlier, after connecting with Pat Raddatz, one of his former classmates from Manawa High School.
“We both had lost our spouses three years earlier. Eventually we got married and this was part of the deal,” said Schoen, smiling and looking towards his wife Pat.
She said, “I told him up front if you want to get married you have to volunteer at Keller’s Lake.
He’s been doing it ever since,” said Pat.
Ron said he’s glad he married such a tail twister.
Pat has been volunteering as a unit leader and assistant coordinator at the camp for 51 years.
“We think it’s fantastic and it’s been going on for years and years,” said Pat Schoen.
“It’s surprising when you talk about it how many people haven’t heard about it and don’t know it takes place every year. We are always looking for volunteers. We have retired people, high school kids, and all types of volunteers ages 14 and up,” said Schoen.
Volunteer roles vary
Some volunteers offer up their skills and time in other ways.
The Clintonville Truckers football team arrives at Cindy Carrick’s house the day before camp begins to load hundreds of pounds of gear required for camp.
The team then hauls the gear to Keller’s Lake and sets up the canopies and unpacks the gear ahead of the camper’s arrival.
On the last day, they return to help take down camp.
“We are so grateful for the team’s help,” said Carrick. “A lot of us aren’t getting any younger around here and it helps to have that strength.”
Jodi Alix remembers her first year volunteering at Keller’s Lake Day Camp in 1985.
Jodi and her friend Sue Stelzner were just 14 years old and answered an ad in the local newspaper calling for volunteers.
“In 1985 I knew I wanted to be a teacher and I saw the ad in the newspaper. My mom encouraged me to come,” said Alix.
“There was a camper here named Gary and we were assigned to each other and he had a seizure that summer. While it seems kind of traumatic it was actually really awe inspiring for me to feel like I could help him,” said Alix.
Everything turned out and Gary was able to return to camp for years to come.
“We were buddies ever since then. That was kind of my decision maker,” Alix said.
She finished her degree in special education and pursued her career around the state but always came back for Keller’s Lake.
Gary is gone now.
“I miss him. I would have never known Gary or went into special education had I not been here at camp,” said Alix.
Alix has been back at Keller’s Lake for most of the 37 years since 1985, with the exception of three years while living and teaching in Denver.
For the last five years, she served as Principal at Weyauwega-Fremont Middle/High School. Her children now volunteer alongside her at Keller’s Lake Day Camp.
“A lot of these campers have been coming here as long as I have,” said Alix as she sliced watermelon snacks for her unit.
“I think for the volunteers they find it’s an opportunity to advocate for others who may not be able to speak for themselves.
This is an opportunity to reconnect. There’s nothing better than Keller’s Lake Camp,” said Alix.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities at Keller’s Lake Day Camp or other Waupaca County ARC activities, contact Cindy Carrick at [email protected] or call 715-823-2823.