When Jonathan Keeter showed up at Camp Harmony's summer camp for Special Needs children and youth recently he was beyond thrilled.
He expressed his excitement to Camp Harmony Director Nikki Brock, "It's great to be back," he told her.
She echoed his sentiments.
"Yes, it's great to be back," Nikki said.
The one week June camp was the first in two years for Camp Harmony due to COVID-19. There was no lack of excitement among campers, volunteers and staffers.
The camp marked the 52nd anniversary of Camp Harmony that was begun by the late Virginia Rucker, Janice Paris and Peggy Blair and became a highlight for campers and volunteers for over five decades. Through the years the lives of both campers and volunteers were changed and every year camp was such a joy and something to look forward to when school was not in session.
The traditional two weeks long camp had to be reduced to one week this year due to the Rutherford County Schools summer school program that involved some of the campers and volunteers.
Camp Harmony partnered this summer with the Rutherford County Schools (RCS).
Nikki was able to partner with RCS Exceptional Children Director Dr. Tammie Ashe in planning, working and providing the best camp for the children.
"She helped so much," said Nikki. We were able to use school buses for transportation to camp every day."
Because of the partnership, Nikki said "even the special needs children in self-contained school classrooms were able to come with their teachers to camp."
Even those in wheelchairs came with their classes. Summer school teachers came to camp with them but because of the work of volunteers, many days the teachers had an opportunity to relax and watch their students as others worked with them.
Campers arrived each morning Monday-Friday at the Forest City Recreation Center where children were allowed to swim and have other activities.
After swimming in the Forest City pool each day, the campers had a snack and then took a field trip each day, transported by Rutherford County Public Schools. Following the field trip, they were transported to Forest City Dunbar for lunch.
Field trips included a movie day with popcorn hosted by Florence Baptist Church, a skating party, bowling at Autumn Lanes and a trip to KidSenses Children's museum in Rutherfordton.
"The last day of camp was especially fun as campers not only had an opportunity to swim, they also had a dance party at the recreation center, treats from Serendipity and McDonalds provided lunch on the last day.
"Thanks to Macey Strickland Butler and Haley Waldrop from Dreamweaver's dance studio for giving us a dance party," Nikki said. "And the campers also enjoyed happy meals from McDonald's for lunch."
Veteran campers were so excited to be back and our new campers were just as excited. So thankful for our volunteers and teachers," said Nikki.
Many of the campers that have placed out of the program actually came back as volunteers, Nikki said.
She is hoping everything works for a two week camp next summer.
"It was a great week - the 52nd anniversary year," Nikki added.