Camp Wonder, a summer camp for students with special needs, kicked off this past Monday (June 12, 2023) at Blackman High School. Created by Rutherford School Board member Claire Maxwell, Camp Wonder has become a unique opportunity for students with special needs to learn, grow, and make new friends.
Inspired by her nephew who has cerebral palsy, Maxwell began working as an education assistant with CDC students in 2016 at Riverdale High School. Recognizing the limited opportunities available for these students during the summertime, Camp Wonder emerged in 2019 as an accessible summer camp option for families which also provides learning and social opportunities.
"I've been excited that we've been able to keep it going,” said Maxwell. “I couldn't do it without my staff. And like I said, it's all volunteers. We only pay for two instructional teachers to come in and do STEM projects. All the funds are raised through donors that really have a heart for this. We are just very blessed."
The camp relies on support of volunteers like Makenzie Jones, who has been involved with Camp Wonder from the very beginning.
"I got started as an aid in Ms. Claire's classroom. We would train for the Special Olympics, and then Ms. Claire came up with the idea for this camp. Of course, I was ready to volunteer. I love these kids," said Jones.
Liz Goodpasture, a parent whose daughter is enrolled in Camp Wonder, expressed her gratitude for the camp.
"It's wonderful. My daughter is not a morning person, but she will literally knock me down to get out of the house to come to camp. She loves it. Ms. Claire was her EA, and she just loved Claire. This is her brainchild. There aren't a lot of opportunities for special needs children. I would just say to other parents that this is a wonderful opportunity. It gives them something fun to do with friends, and they come up with the needed stuff. After lunch every day, there is a surprise a lot of times," Goodpasture staid.
Camp Wonder also welcomes first-time participants like Malina Johnson, a student with big dreams.
"I'm really excited overall," said Johnson. "It's all fun in the afternoon, and we do our learning in the morning. We get a snack after this and then do another project. Then there's a surprise in the afternoon, I think."
With aspirations ranging from starting a YouTube channel to pursuing careers in cosmetology, nail artistry, baking, and fashion, Johnson expressed how excited she was for all the activities throughout the week.
Camp Wonder 2023 promises an exceptional experience for its participants. From STEM experiments and lessons in the mornings to enjoying surprise guests and afternoon activities, the camp provides a platform for students to learn, grow, and express themselves.
Camp Wonder was held over the past week (June 12 - 16th) at Blackman High School in Murfreesboro.