The idea for the Special Camp for Special Kids
program was derived from The Reverend Mike Wallens, former Chaplain at St.
Margaret's Episcopal School. The concept originated through St.
sponsorship of a Special Olympics soccer game and bike race, where student
volunteers served as coaches and "buddies" to the special teams. Concerned about
budget cuts in local schools and other service agencies, Father Wallens began
organizing the camp in early 1992, bringing together parents of children with
disabilities and experts in the field of special education to design the
program. In its first year, 15 campers--with varying degrees of physical and
mental disabilities--and 20 counselors participated in the camp.
With its inception, Special Camp began
responding to a very particular need of the Southern California disabled
community. The scarcity of summer camp programs providing meaningful
opportunities for school-age children with disabilities is a problem that
Special Camp for Special Kids is attempting to address through its mission and
vision. Due to budget cutbacks, there are few opportunities for children with
disabilities to participate in summer camp programs, especially in South Orange
County. Prohibitive medical costs burden many families of children with
disabilities; therefore, some families struggle to afford the expense of special
summer programs or day care. In addition, the statewide cutbacks on scholarships
for children with special needs have created even more obstacles for parents.
Special Camp for Special Kids is hosted by St. Margaret's Episcopal School, but
operates independently of the school's operating budget.
Since 1992, Special Camp for Special Kids has
grown each year. The program has left a
lasting impression on the historic community of San Juan Capistrano, as well as
Southern California, and the nation. Special Camp for Special Kids continues to
be the only program of its kind in the entire country. Campers and counselors
come from throughout the Southern California area. Additionally, Special Camp
hosts campers and counselors from other parts of the United States.
1994, Mike Wallens left St. Margaret's for Atlanta, Georgia and handed the
leadership of Special Camp over to Nancy Harris, who was an active leader in the
program and a lower school teacher at St. Margaret's. Nancy played a pivotal
role in maintaining the stability of the program during an important transition
In 1995, Ryan D. Newman, a St. Margaret's
alumnus and one of the original 20 counselors, assumed the role of Director. His
role was designated as Executive Director in 1997. Ryan, active as both a
counselor and a staff member, became responsible for transforming Special Camp
from a small community effort into a nationally recognized program.
In 1996, with the assistance of Nancy Harris,
Mary Carroll, R.N., and Patty Canright, R.N., all staff members since the camp's
inception, and with the help of the newly formed student staff comprised of
Amy Smoler, Megan Canright, and Erin Gregg, Special Camp for Special Kids celebrated
its fifth anniversary amid continued success and growth. On August 2, 1996,
Special Camp officially marked its fifth anniversary with an evening celebration
to honor Special Camp's founder, The Rev. Mike Wallens. More than 300 people
attended the event, which was held in the beautiful courtyard of St. Margaret's.
Mike Wallens was presented with a plaque commemorating the fifth anniversary
that read, "In Honor of Fr. Mike Wallens, the dedicated and loving founder of
Special Camp for Special Kids. We know that the colors of children everywhere
shine in a world of love." The highlight of the anniversary came when Ryan
Newman officially introduced the
"Sandcastle" logo of Special Camp for Special Kids, designed by Melissa
Latham-Stevens. The Special Camp Sandcastle has come to symbolize the hopes and
dreams of Special Camp's unique and revolutionary summer experience.
During the past twenty-five years, Special Camp has
reached its enrollment capacity—each camp session is booked months in advance.
More than 170 youth with disabilities and 180 volunteer counselors participate
annually. In its fifteen years, Special Camp has logged thousands of
miles in bus travel and hundreds of hours on roller coasters, riding horses, and
soaking in the California sun at the beach. Families of campers praise the
program’s role in their children’s development and education. Our counselor
staff continues to grow in age and experience and represents some of the
brightest, most talented and compassionate young men and women in the nation.
The summer of 2007 marked Special Camp’s sixteenth
anniversary and the addition of a 4th session, opening the program up to even
more campers and counselors.
The growth of the program has also led to a
growth in the number of staff members. Another integral and revolutionary part
of the Special Camp program is its commitment to providing young leaders with
opportunities to work and lead in a dynamic non-profit organization. The Special
Camp for Special Kids program is lead by young men and women who are the next
generation of leaders. Since the development of a paid student staff to handle
many of the affairs of the program, Special Camp has witnessed dramatic success
and remarkable growth. Through the years, our paid staff, comprised primarily of
college students, has been instrumental in transforming the program into a
nationally recognized organization and summer camp.
Southern California community has embraced the Special Camp program with loving
support and generosity. Thanks to the assistance of such community leaders as
the Irvine Health Foundation, the Pacific Mutual Foundation, the Hoag
Foundation, PepsiCo, In-N-Out Burgers, Edward's Cinema, Taco Bell, and St.
Margaret's Episcopal Church and School, Special Camp continues to provide a
truly unique summer camp experience.
In 2001, the Special Camp family celebrated its
tenth anniversary with an eye to the future. In January 2001, Special Camp
launched its new "virtual" home that you are visiting now. The program
received a record number of camper and counselor applications for the 2001 camp,
and the number has increased steadily since. In the summer of 2001,
Special Camp hosted a tenth anniversary celebration for its families and the
Additionally, Special Camp would not be where
it is today without the generous support of the families of campers and
The past reflects the love, generosity, and
vision Mike Wallens had for the Special Camp family. The present continues to
break new ground and faithfully live out the mission and the vision of the
program. The future is bright and full of opportunity and hope.
We thank all who do and will support the
mission and vision of Special Camp for Special Kids. The Special Camp Family
cherishes each member's compassion and dedication to making our community,
nation, and world a more accepting and loving place.