Camp Courageous

Throughout life, we all find causes that we can get behind. We donate to charities, give blood, join fundraisers for a variety of helpful issues, and generally participate in any number of different activities that enable us to give of our time or abilities to someone less fortunate.

The people of Camp Courageous in Monticello, Iowa, have been doing that since it was founded on 40 acres of land donated back in 1972. It was officially opened in 1974 and hosted its first 211 campers. Today, the camp is open year-round and has over 150 acres, 16 buildings and serves thousands of people with disabilities.

As the Camp Courageous website ( states, all people, regardless of ability level, have the right to opportunities found in the world around them. Individuals with disabilities, as well as their families, should experience year-round recreational and respite care activities in a camp setting. Camp Courageous of Iowa provides this needed service to all. The camp provides opportunities for social and personal growth within a supportive environment. Campers learn to try a variety of creative and challenging activities and experience success. Campers develop enhanced self-esteem which carries over to work, home, or school environments.

I’ve seen this work firsthand myself. What it does for these kids is truly amazing. I had the chance to sit down with a couple of Iowa moms and talk about the effect that Camp Courageous has had on their lives and the lives of their children. Tammy Cochran has a daughter, Kelly, who has Downs Syndrome and is 21 years old. She has been involved with Camp Courageous for the last three years. My first question would be, why so late in life?

“We got a late start because for the longest time, I didn’t really know what it was all about,” Tammy says. “Then Kelly got wind of it and wanted to go on a trip with Camp Courageous, so we did. And me, being the protective mom, wanted to tag along just to make sure Kelly was fine.”

And she was?

“It was the best thing I’ve done my entire life,” she answers. “What it does for these kids is incredible. It makes their lives full; gives them a purpose. And it involves them completely. They get to camp and they never even mention their parents other than ‘I’ll bet mom and dad are wondering what I’m doing right now.’ They do everything out there – camping, fishing, swimming, arts and crafts, canoeing, zip lines, horseback riding, you name it…they do it. The camp does things for these kids that these kids would never get to experience in their lives otherwise.”

You sound like you are very involved.

“I am. It’s like a second family to me and it’s amazing. These people are amazing, both the volunteers and those that the camp serves. All the kids I have connected with, they stay in touch. They call, email, write…it’s my second family. It doesn’t matter who you are or how you look…they love you.”

“Anyone that ever wants to volunteer for Camp Courageous, I encourage it. I do it because I love it; I love the children. You can’t help but not love them.”

A friend of mine, Dana Martin, has a very similar story. Her son, Blayke, is 8 years old and is autistic. Speaking from my own point of view, this boy is amazing. He’s brilliant, funny, and an absolute joy to be around. And he, too, benefits greatly from Camp Courageous.

“Blayke loves to go to camp where there are lots of other kids,” Dana explains. “He has the opportunity to socialize with others who truly understand him and accept him for who he is. The staff at Camp Courageous is like our second family. They treat all the kids like they are normal, and this makes them feel very special. The counselors and staff know the kids by name and look forward to spending time with them.”

“It helps Blayke to learn to interact with others, learning patience and taking turns and just playing with other kids and people. He also gets the opportunity to try things that we wouldn’t be able to do with him. There have been activities that they’ve done with him, that we never even thought he could do, and he’s done very well with them and really enjoyed doing it.”

So he loves to participate, right?

“He does,” she goes on. “He does almost every activity and it’s so neat to see the pictures and videos they’ve taken for us. It’s really great to see how his face lights up and how excited he gets when he knows he’s going to Camp Courageous. He knows many of the staff there by name and talks about them often.”

Camp Courageous was built and continues to operate on donations, without government assistance, without formal sponsorship, and without paid fund-raisers. What this means is that everything that is given to the camp goes directly to benefit the campers and it can continue to do so because of people like Tammy and Dana.

Tammy has been volunteering for Camp Courageous now for 3 years and has also been with the Special Olympics for over a decade. Dana and her husband, Charley, have been volunteering and donating with Camp Courageous for 3 years, as well. Their children and thousands of others just like them, benefit and excel in life, because of the time and effort they donate…and because of they love they have for them.

Can you help? Find out how today.

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