By Ericka Short
“Where is Sneaky?” someone shouts over the din of clean up after a family style meal in a “naturally” air conditioned dining hall on a hill beside Lions Lake.
Soon all are chanting “Where is Sneaky?” and the director quiets us for announcements first: Swimming, hikes and boating are just some of the options for that day’s events.
Things changed daily. Girls’ and boys’ cabins were set up to work as a unit according to age. Sometimes stories were shared at “sneaky time” about a cabin, counselor or unit that did something silly, like a missing shoe drowned in the mud pit under the monkey bridge or bikers who came back from a ride burnt to a crisp.
Tale were told about flipping canoes or paddle boats. Don’t get me wrong, positives were also shared. The names of people who swam the lake were announced at meals too.
The most important thing, by far, was the camaraderie with people who understand different was OK. It may have been hard to make friends during the year, but when you spend three days on a Caruso camping trip, bonding beyond the stink of wet shoes, bad breath and bug repellent, it just forges friendships.
Wisconsin Lions Camp near Rosholt, Wisconsin is a camp funded by the Lions Foundation for children and adults with disabilities. When I was a child, they had two-week sessions for kids with hearing and vision impairments. Now everyone gets a week, but they’ve expanded it to kids with autism and diabetes. They run the camps all year and hold conferences and a cross country program for people with a visual impairment. For me, it was about being around people my age who are going through the same thing. We were equals there. Counselors were eager to understand because they were going into fields related to our needs. They were trained in the basics like guiding a person who is blind and understanding that we could do things ourselves; we just did it differently.
A Caruso camp went like this: a boys’/girls’ teen unit went out on a “roughing it” camp for three days. We dug a pit for a bathroom, had no clue where we were on camp property, and learned through team building activities like trust walk. You discovered who you were and how to help each other in good and bad times. You also learned how to deal with slackers. “I am NOT doing dishes again!” Sometimes it was just listening to nature and enjoying freeze-dried scrambled eggs. All day hikes (yes, all night and overnight), and canoe and bike trips left a lot of great memories in my heart.
While I wouldn’t get the “night owl” or “clean sweep” award anymore, I still can’t imagine a better place than Wisconsin Lions Camp. In the 60 years it’s been open it’s changed, but so have I. That can be good. Some things haven’t though. I still love to do handicrafts. I wish I had my root beer float candle complete with straw to show people. I still am most comfortable in nature. I love being out paddling a canoe or shooting an arrow, even though I stink at it. I love to challenge myself too and never give up.
Camp now helps kids with a larger variety of needs but it still challenges and encourages. Thankfully, every year I check my pocket and sneaky never shows up. I’m glad. Life has enough “Sneakies” – as camp directors over the years have announced – it could be something really good or something not so good! I have friends have kept in touch with and cherished no matter what. Maybe it’s online, but we still laugh about how we flipped a metal hospital bed complete with a crank, and short-sheeted the mattress for a counselor.
So, if you or your child go to camp, keep checking those pockets for “Sneaky.” If you find a smiling Popsicle stick in your pocket, pass it on to the next pocket or you might be doing something silly in front of everyone.