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Volunteers share love of the arts, sports with campers

Volunteers share love of the arts, sports with campers

July 12th, 2018 by Joe Gamm in News

Mackenzie Daniels, Isabelle Mutert, Olivia Carrender and Vada Hamler dance Wednesday with members of Helias High School Dance Explosion as part of Camp Jade activities. Hamler serves as a role model and, as such, is often the first one to demonstrate a new activity then help with the campers to perform it.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

The sounds of music and laughter could be heard Wednesday in the halls of the Special Learning Center.

That's because the center, at 1115 Fairgrounds Road, hosts Camp Jade this week and next.

Each year, the center provides students opportunities to get involved in a myriad of activities they otherwise may not due to developmental delays and disabilities.

During the week-long camp, children get to participate in sports, drama and dance classes, bowling, gymnastics, crafts and events at the library, Heather Renkemeyer said.

Wednesday morning, about 14 children ages 3 and older enjoyed a dance class taught by members of the Helias High School Dance Explosion team.

They learned basic tap-dance moves, such as buffalo steps, double-buffaloes, shuffle steps, digs and ball changes.

"Front, back, step," the teenage instructors patiently repeated.

If that was too slow, their students also danced to the Macarena and the Nae Nae.

The camp is named for Renkemeyer's daughter, who attended the school from 2000 until her death in 2005 at 6 years old.

Jade was born with an illness that doctors were never able to identify, Renkemeyer said.

"She had physical disabilities, but not cognitive," Renkemeyer said. "She was the kind of child who could light a room up."

And although she was non-verbal, Jade was an example for other students.

She was able to pick up just about anything.

To honor her, Renkemeyer's family began the camp.

Each year, Gretchen Crane, Renkemeyer's sister, organizes activities for it. Crane, a kindergarten teacher from St. Joseph, said she enjoys finding new outlets for the students.

"I try to look at things school-age kids would be interested in," Crane said. "Things they may not normally get to do."

For example, the instructors and volunteers are going to take the students out to a spot where they can order their own meals. It's a scenario the campers won't be accustomed to, she said.

"They'll be out without their parents," Crane said. "They'll have to talk for themselves. They need to build their confidence."

Several of the students are non-verbal, she said. For those students, staff will provide choices they can select.

Several spots in next week's camp remain open for students, Renkemeyer said.

The camp usually costs $60 for the week, but scholarships are available. For information about the camp or to sign up a student, contact the Special Learning Center at 634-3070.

While it's also enjoyable, the work is difficult for volunteers.

"It's very rewarding, working with the kids who have the highest needs. It's just so different. It gets me out of my comfort zone," Crane said.

Helias dance troupe member 16-year-old Olivia Hennon is also a regular volunteer at the school, where she arrives in the morning to help with early childhood programming.

"I love it," she said. "It was one of those things I wanted to do. I can see myself doing this (in the future)."

Many of the center's students also return to volunteer.

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Although she's not in the dance troupe, Elaina Verslues, another 16-year-old Helias student, attended the camp. The former student at the school attended the camp as a volunteer.

Verslues said she likes to help the younger children.

"There's so much going on," she said. "I helped them do crafts."

Verslues also joined in the dance party. Her favorite dance, she said, is the Macarena. It's a song she plays on a CD.

Jade Camp, Renkemeyer said, is something students and the volunteers look forward to contributing to.

"A lot of volunteers from the high schools help," she said. "College students fight for positions here. It's a way to honor Jade."