By Lisa Martone
DES MOINES – The snow covers most of the sprawling 80 acres of land where Easter Seals Camp Sunnyside sits. For 43 years this camp has provided a one of a kind camping experience for kids and adults with disabilities.
"This place is all about provided opportunity for children and adults with disabilities," said Sherri Nielsen, President and CEO of Camp Sunnyside.
It's hard to picture it now, but in the summer and fall this camp is filled with kids and adults enjoying nature hikes, canoeing and swimming. The secret to this camp is that they mix children and adults with and without disabilities. They welcome and are prepared to handle both.
"We hear from our parents that have a child with a disability that they were so happy to bring their entire family, their child with and without a disability, to camp and have that camp experience together," said Nielsen. "And parents with children that don't have disabilities find that their child learns so much about caring and about diversity and about appreciating each and everyone's skill level."
During the winter you will still see kids on the camp grounds. There is a preschool program where about 30 percent of the children have some kind of learning disability, but they play side-by-side with ones that don't.
However it's expensive to run such a large property and to make sure they have the staff to handle all types of children, so private donors and groups like Variety are vital to their success.
"Variety gives us the opportunity to improve our infrastructure, to have state of the art equipment, to be able to get creative and to come up with new programming that better meets our families needs, they are just a vital part to everything that we do," said Nielsen.
Most of the camp's playgrounds were paid for by Variety, and Variety funded their new indoor gym. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been given to Camp Sunnyside by Variety over its 43 years of existence, and the difference it makes is written all over the kids faces.
"The thing about kids is they come into this world accepting and loving and it is experiences like this really build that going into the future," Nielsen said.
The Variety Telethon begins this Saturday at 7:00pm on ABC5. You can donate to Variety right now by clicking on their logo in the Big Blue Box on our website at myabc5.com.
More about The Variety Telethon
Variety, The Children's Charity Telethon for 2013 will be on March 9 & 10 at the Veterans Memorial Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center in downtown Des Moines.
ABC5 anchors Amanda Krenz, Rachel Pierce and ABC5's Chief Meteorologist Brad Edwards will co-host the telethon this year.
Variety's first telethon in 1975 raised $150,000 and went to one grant recipient, Blank Children's Hospital. Now 38 years later, Variety has raised over $90 million that has been granted to agencies serving children across the State of Iowa and have put over 300 Sunshine Coaches on the road transporting children to new adventures. Thanks to the cast members, volunteers and donors who support Variety during Telethon and throughout the year, Variety is able to raise the much needed funds for Iowa's Children.
Variety, Children's Charity website: www.varietyiowa.com