25+ years of experience
Growing from 30 to over 400 campers and counselors every summer, we've been building friendships and breaking down barriers.
Located within St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in historic San Juan Capistrano, Special Camp was founded by Father Mike Wallens in 1992 to address the scarcity of resources for school-age children with disabilities in the community. Over 29 years later, his one-to-one ratio designed with the help of parents of children with disabilities and experts in the field of special education continues to be the foundational basis and catalyst for the Special Camp Family.
Each year, our counselor staff continues to grow in age and experience and represents some of the brightest, most talented and compassionate young young adults in the nation, making an impact that reaches far beyond Southern California. With service, opportunity, and love, we will continue to work toward inspiring future generations to eliminate the stigma associated with this beautiful community.
Fun With Purpose
Special Camp consists of four, one-week sessions along with additional days devoted to counselor training seminars and meetings. Campers blossom through the magic of the camper-counselor relationship. However, it is not only campers who benefit from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Counselors are given the chance to work in a positive, nurturing environment that fosters an educational atmosphere of opportunities to explore the intricacies and the needs of this community with a focus on:
When counselors are comfortable with a wider range of individual learning abilities, they can help meet campers where they are. This brings a special unity to our group and ensures that no one feels left behind.
Communication skills are a two-way street—it’s not something we’re just teaching our campers. Our counselors use clear and positive language to help campers participate, feel heard, and have more engaging experiences while at camp.
A camper’s emotional well-being can affect them far beyond their experience at Special Camp. That’s why we place special care in fostering healthier self-esteem so campers have a positive summer camp experience to take home with them.
Social development is a big part of what makes summer camp fun, so our counselors nurture skills that help campers relate to others in a constructive way. This means they not only having a great time making friends at camp, but also gain a sense of who they are and grow as individuals.
We have decades of combined experience working with special needs of all types. Below are a few of the more common abilities we’re pros at caring for, but our team is equipped to welcome children and young adults of all abilities.
Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of neurodevelopmental conditions. Some characteristics of autism include challenges with repetitive behaviors, communication, and social interactions, giving way to unique strengths and differences.
Cerebral Palsy is a neurological disorder that affects muscle control and coordination. Typically, the effects of cerebral palsy are seen in motor and oral skills. Despite these limitations, advancements in assistive technologies and services are making independence in daily life more attainable.
Developmental delays occur when a child experiences continuous roadblocks to reaching developmental milestones at the anticipated times. These delays may be in areas such as motor, language, social, or thinking skills. Early detection and intervention with a specialist can help to accelerate reaching those milestones.
Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition that affects the development of the brain and body. While it does lead to physical and mental challenges throughout life, down syndrome typically does not take away one’s ability to participate at school, work, in relationships, or other areas of society.
Epilepsy is the fourth-most common neurological disorder and affects people of all ages. It is characterized primarily by unpredictable seizures, but is considered a spectrum condition so not everyone shares the same symptoms. Epilepsy does not affect one’s intelligence and usually, daily physical limitations tend to be minimal.
Intellectual disabilities are characterized by significant limitations in two key areas — intellectual functioning (processes like learning, reasoning, and problem solving) and adaptive behaviors (the social and practical skills used in day-to-day life). However, with the right support, those with intellectual disabilities can develop and learn at great rates.
Aphasia is a communication disorder that occurs when there is damage to areas of the brain that are responsible for language. Although it may affect how one understands, reads, writes, or speaks, aphasia does not affect intelligence.
Fragile X Syndrome
Fragile X Syndrome
Fragile X Syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by learning disabilities, developmental delays, and social or behavioral challenges. Support in learning key language and social skills helps individuals with Fragile X Syndrome live a high level of independence as adults.
Angelman Syndrome is a complex genetic disorder that primarily affects the nervous system. Characteristics include delayed development, intellectual disability, speech impairment, and challenges with movement and balance. Different types of therapy are important in allowing individuals with Angelman Syndrome to reach their maximum developmental potential
A Week at Camp
The first session starts July 19, 2021
Meet the people who help make the Special Camp vision a reality.
Lindsay started as a volunteer Counselor with Special Camp in 1995, and joined the Staff in 1998. During her years on Staff, Lindsay served as a Senior Counselor, Camper Coordinator, and Counselor Coordinator. Lindsay then assumed the Director’s role in 2003 while in college at the University of Southern California. After graduating with her BA in Communication in 2005, Lindsay had the fantastic opportunity to work for Best Buddies International for 3 years. In 2008, Lindsay was offered a full-time position at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, which allowed her to return to the Special Camp Director’s role – a position that she greatly missed! In addition to Special Camp, Lindsay is a Junior/Senior Dean of Students at St. Margaret’s. She and her spouse, Rob, are proud parents to two little girls!
Associate Program Director
Associate Program Director
McCombs started volunteering at Special Camp in the summer of 2013, and joined the staff in 2016. During her time on staff, McCombs held the positions of Staff Intern, Assistant Camper Coordinator, Camper Coordinator, Development Coordinator, and is now entering her second summer as Associate Programs Director. McCombs graduated from UCLA in 2020 with a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Disability Studies. McCombs is currently pursuing her Occupational Therapy Doctorate at Boston University.
Katie started volunteering at Special Camp in the summer of 2013, and joined the staff in 2016. While on staff, Katie held the positions of Staff Intern, Assistant Counselor Coordinator, Counselor Coordinator, and will now be joining us for her eighth summer as the Assistant Director. Katie graduated from St. Margaret’s in 2017 and recently received her major in Integrated Educational Studies with a minor in Disability Studies from Chapman University in 2021. Her work with Special Camp has inspired her to pursue a career working with children. She plans on teaching English to students abroad in the coming months.
Katie Rommelfanger, BSN, RN
Katie Rommelfanger, BSN, RN
Nurse Katie grew up involved with Special Camp from a very young age… first joining as a volunteer Counselor in 1998. She ultimately became a Staff member in 2003. Katie served many roles on Staff until solidifying her nursing career. In 2008, Katie graduated from North Orange County Regional Occupational Program as a Licensed Vocational Nurse.
After many years of working throughout the Capistrano Unified School District as a school nurse, she continued her education at Saddleback College with a double major in Nursing and Spanish in 2017. After obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing at University of Texas at Arlington, she has enthusiastically embraced the role of Camp’s Nursing Director. She currently works full time as a Registered Nurse in Mission Hospital’s Emergency Department. She and her husband, Ron, have a daughter, Rae, and are excited to be expecting the arrival of their son in October 2021.
“Special Camp has had such a positive impact on my family. The support, acceptance and opportunity for growth that my daughter Kira is given each summer is truly incredible!”
Mikail R. — Camper Parent
“I love Special Camp and I continue to come back because they are like family to me!”
Javier S. — Camper
“I have built the best friendships with so many of the kids and I am so grateful I am a part of their lives just as much as they are a part of mine!”
Mathew Josephs — past Counselor and Staff Member
News & Updates
The summer of 2021 marked the 30th anniversary of Special Camp–and a return to a modified in-person program in July....