Camelot for Children

Camelot for Children

By Liz Reph

It’s a place where kids can momentarily forget about the endless routines of hospitals, doctors and medication… a place where parents can connect with one another over their shared fears and difficulties… a place where all of them can come together and realize that they are not alone in their struggles.

This place is Camelot for Children – a non-profit organization that serves as a safe, fun and supportive gathering place for handicapped, disabled, chronic and terminally ill children ages six to 19 and their families. “Our mission is to provide a setting where children and families who are dealing with very difficult life situations can come together, support one another and have fun,” explains Christine Cleaver, Executive Director.

Founded by Kostas Kalogeropoulos and Patricia Mullin in 1986, Camelot for Children grew out of Dream Come True, a Lehigh Valley non-profit group that provides chronically and terminally ill children with the opportunity to fulfill a wish of their choice.

“I loved helping these kids,” explains Mullin. “But I also realized that a lot of times the children and their families needed something more – they needed a place where they could find support on a
regular basis.”

As the mother of two daughters who suffered from cystic fibrosis, Mullin knew firsthand the tremendous strain that raising children with special needs can put on a family. “Sometimes you can feel incredibly overwhelmed. So it’s really important to know that there are other people out there who are dealing with similar situations, and that you can lean on one another for support.”

“Sometimes you can feel incredibly overwhelmed. So it’s really important to know that there are other people out there who are dealing with similar situations, and that you can lean on one another for support.”

Today, Camelot for Children provides a variety of programs and activities for approximately 250 families year-round. From September to May, this includes “field trips” to places like the Da Vinci Science Center and “family fun” events like karaoke nights, miniature golf or themed parties. Dances and proms specifically geared toward older kids are also offered as special events or on holidays.

“All of our programs are completely free and open to the entire family,” said Cleaver. “Our goal is to have fun and build community, but also to teach the children usable skills and help expose them to new and different environments that will benefit them later in life.”

One of the greatest ways Camelot for Children achieves these goals is through its volunteers, who make up the heart of the organization. “Our volunteers are between the ages of 12 and 20. We pair them up with a Camelot kid who shares the same interests and passions, and together they play games, do activities and build a friendship,” explains Cleaver.

For the children of Camelot, this buddy system approach reaps incredible rewards in a multitude of ways. “A lot of times, the relationships extend beyond the walls of Camelot because the kids and the volunteers go to the same school, or see each other in the same community groups,” said Cleaver. “And this is incredibly important because so often our Camelot kids feel ‘different’ because of their disability or their sickness. So for them to suddenly have a buddy at school that’s on the football team or in the same lunch period is really wonderful for them.”

In some cases, these relationships can even blossom from friendship into expanded involvement in furthering Camelot’s mission. Just last fall, volunteer Erica Nymberg of Emmaus High School organized a Powder Puff football game at her school. All of the proceeds from the game went towards purchasing a specially trained service dog for her Camelot buddy, 7-year-old Richard Klingensmith, who suffers from cerebral palsy, periventricular leukomalacia (known as PVL) and seizures. “I saw it as a great way to connect my school life with my life at Camelot,” said Nymberg. “I knew my school would love Richard’s energy almost as much as Richard would enjoy watching a Powder Puff football game in his honor!”

“Seeing how the experience changes our volunteers is just as rewarding as seeing how it changes our kids,” said Cleaver. “Watching the volunteers come into their own as caring, compassionate, young adults is
truly amazing.”

Starting this summer, Camelot for Children is extending its program by offering a daily camp from June 23 through August 8. Each week is structured around a particular theme, including Art Week, Sports Week, Water Week and Patriot Week. “This is the first year we’re running camp every day Monday through Friday,” said Cleaver. “In the past we only did two days a week. But after speaking with a number of families, we decided it was necessary because the children really need the extra stimulation that they are missing from not being in school.”

As for the future, Cleaver believes the next step in Camelot’s growth may be to expand their services by developing programs for people ages 19 and over. “Many of our kids enroll in Camelot when they are young and come back year after year.  Once they turn 19 and are no longer eligible for our programs, they really miss the group that they’ve been a part of for so long. So we’d really like to keep the community we’ve built going.”

For co-founder Mullin, who lost both of her daughters to complications stemming from their cystic fibrosis, seeing these long-term benefits firsthand are particularly moving. “Last year, we had six kids graduate. Today, several of them are working jobs or furthering their education,” said Mullin. “Knowing that we played a part in helping make that happen is a true testament to the mission of Camelot for Children.”

Camelot for Children, Inc. is located at 2354 West Emmaus Avenue in Allentown.  For more information or to become a volunteer, please call 610.791.5683 or visit their website at camelotforchildren.org.  “Believe in the Magic!”

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