August 13, 2007

Local camp offers fun for the developmentally disabled

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

John Warner of Cokato gets a bit emotional when he talks about the positive experiences possible for both the staff and the developmentally disabled campers at Camp Friendship in Annandale.

“Lives are changed by working here,” Warner said during a tour of the 114-acre camp on Clearwater Lake last week.

Camp Friendship is a part of Friendship Ventures and is one of three of the camps across Minnesota offering recreational activities and respite care for developmentally disabled individuals.

The camp gives people with disabilities the opportunity to make friends and take risks in a safe and structured environment, according to Warner.

“Most importantly, it’s a place for people with disabilities to go and take part in things they can’t do at home,” Warner said.

Warner is a development specialist at Friendship Ventures and works with fundraising for this non-profit organization.

His experience working with the developmentally disabled is extensive, having grown up with a developmentally disabled brother and having owned several care homes in Cokato. Due to health reasons, Warner sold his last home to AME in 2001. Once healthy again, Warner decided to go back to work in this same field in 2006.

Warner’s wife, Marlis, also works at Friendship Ventures as a health director. She previously worked at Cokato Manor as a director of nursing.

The camp employs just under 150 staff, which includes counselors, activity specialists, and 26 volunteers.

Staff and volunteers come from all over the world including Russia, Germany, Canada, and Mexico.

A church group from Nebraska has come every summer for the past six years, Warner said.

Volunteers can start as young as 14; paid staff must be at least 16.

Campers stay from Sunday through Friday. Respite care is also available through the weekend with the option of continued care.

While there, campers partake in recreational activities including swimming, arts and crafts, boating, hiking, and other traditional camp activities.

Activities are meant to teach them self worth, Warner said.

It’s a very structured routine, Warner said. Breakfast is at 8 a.m. and then, the campers have three activity hours before lunch and rest hour. Then, there are three activity hours in the afternoon before dinner. Usually after supper, the camp gets together for a group activity.

For example, every Thursday night, the camp has a dance for the campers, and Warner’s brother, Bob, provides the music with his piano and accordion.

Friday afternoons, before the campers check out, a talent show is performed.

“People absolutely love that,” Warner said.

Campers are of all disabilities, physical and mental. Ages of the campers are as young as 5 years old to the oldest camper, Albert, who is 90 and has been coming ever since the camp opened in 1969.

Friendship Ventures does just that – allows people with disabilities to meet others like them and make life-long friends.

On average, the camp has 100 to 130 campers, and 16 cabins. This is the largest of the three sites that make up Friendship Ventures. The other sites include Eden Wood Center in Eden Prairie, and Camp New Hope on Glacier Lake near McGregor.

Recently, Cokato Dassel Rotarian Jim Loe invited Warner to speak to the Rotary Club.

“I was happy to hear of the Warners working at Friendship Ventures. I know that’s where John’s heart is,” Loe said.

With Warner speaking at service clubs around the area, Loe was interested in having him speak to Rotary. Loe is working with Rotary to consider donation opportunities for the camp.

For more information about Friendship Ventures, check out the web site at www.friendshipventures.org or call (800) 450-8376.

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