More than 250 people packed into Decatur’s Joe Wheeler Park this week for Sonflower Camp.
The nearly weeklong camp, created for special needs children in the area, features eight stations each day, including a group music station and two cars donated by James Woods Motors on which the campers can play, both of which proved popular.
Campers wildly honked the car horns Tuesday morning, but it didn’t drown out the boisterous singing inside the pavilion.
Andrea Duwe, the co-director of Sonflower Camp, said more than 10 churches sent volunteers to help with the event each day. Each camper is paired with a volunteer, and they are divided into eight groups to rotate stations.
Elaine Huff, the children’s pastor at Crossroads Church and camp’s other co- director, said the event presents a great opportunity for campers to meet new friends.
“We’re building a network for special needs individuals in the community,” Huff said. “When they’re at home, their world is pretty limited, especially in the summer with no school, but they can come here and have a real camp experience.”
Most campers also participate in a special needs baseball league, Huff said. Opportunities like these provide new opportunities and sensory experiences, which allow them to grow. This is especially evident in repeat campers.
“It’s fun to watch the changes because they just blossom,” Huff said.
One camper, J.J. Benavidez, was in attendance with his brother, Sebastian. The duo was inseparable as Sebastian pushed J.J.’s wheelchair across the grass and under a pavilion to participate in the group’s next activity. Sebastian and J.J. have been regular attendees at Sonflower for several years.
“He’s the best brother,” Huff said. “He sits with his J.J. every day at lunch instead of hanging out with his friends.”
Best friends Caroline Parks and Bucky Sledge from Alvord were in attendance for the first time.
Parks said she’s been caring for Sledge since high school and that she’d agreed to volunteer at the camp because it was the only way to persuade him to take part.
“We’ve been together for a long time,” Parks said. “Me and Bucky do our own thing. We always have.”
For Huff, being a part of Sonflower Camp is about seeing the effects on campers.
“This is the highlight of my year,” Huff said, “to look in those faces and just see the joy.”