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Special Olympics Camp Kicks Off at Good Hope School

July 23, 2007 — Kids with learning disabilities began two weeks of swim lessons and sports practice Monday as Camp Shriver marked its V.I. debut on St. Croix and St. Thomas.
“This is the first off-shore Camp Shriver,” said long-time St. Croix Special Olympics coordinator Janice Lee, who has volunteered with Special Olympics in the Virgin Islands since it first arrived in the territory in 1977.
Camp Shriver was begun in the 1960s by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The two- week camp provides recreational activities for people with intellectual disabilities. The goal of the camp is to build relationships between people with and without intellectual disabilities as well as to help kids train for the Special Olympics, which Shriver founded in 1962.
Shriver held the first Camp Shriver at her home in Potomac, Md., challenging people everywhere with yards and pools to do likewise and open their homes to provide an opportunity for young athletes with intellectual disabilities.
In 2006, Camp Shriver expanded to six cities on the U.S. mainland. At a March 1 luncheon at the Shriver home, plans shifted into high gear for the development of Camp Shriver in the Virgin Islands. Shriver hosted the luncheon herself. In attendance were Gov. John P. deJongh Jr. and first lady Cecile deJongh, Janice Lee of Special Olympics and several other Virgin Islanders. This year the camp comes to the Virgin Islands and 18 new cities on the mainland, bringing the total to 25. Ultimately Shriver wants a camp in every state and territory.
Kids and parents arrived at Good Hope School early Monday morning for the first day of camp on St. Croix. Lee and first lady Cecile deJongh were on hand to welcome the camp’s students and parents. Simultaneously, on St. Thomas, her husband the governor greeted everyone and launched the program at the Mark C. Marin Center at Antilles School.
The free two-week camp will coach the kids in basketball, kickball, softball, bocce and swimming.
“Mrs. Shriver has very specifically been promoting swimming,” Cecile deJongh said. “We are teaching swimming and seeing how they are doing with their athletic skills.”
Teaching the kids are student volunteers, getting community-service credit for graduation, as well as adult volunteers and members of the St. Croix Swimming association.
“We are really lucky to have the St. Croix Dolphins helping us out,” Lee said. “A couple of them are coming to help teach swimming.”
Sheldon LaCoss was there with his wife, Michelle, and their son, who competed in the Special Olympics this past March.
“I’m so happy this came to the Virgin Islands,” Sheldon said. “Ultimately, we would like to make the preparation for the Special Olympics more of a year-round affair. This is a good start. The Special Olympics is a worldwide program. There is no reason our kids cannot compete on the worldwide stage. This way we can begin some formal training.”
At present 15 children are signed up on St. Thomas and 22 on St. Croix.
“Now that we’ve begun, it will be up to us to keep the program going,” deJongh said. “Mrs. Shriver intends to provide seed money to start up the programs, but not to finance them on into the future. It’s up to us.”
Many volunteer organizations have helped to make Camp Shriver a reality. Catholic Charities is a major partner here in the territory. The Lions and Rotary clubs have also provided a lot of assistance.
“The Lions have been great,” Lee said. “They come out in force and have provided a lot of volunteer time and labor over the years. The Rotarians have been great too, with financial assistance.”
There is an ongoing need for more volunteers, however.
“A big part of the struggle for a lot of families has been transportation,” deJongh said. “It is very difficult for some parents who don’t have a reliable car. So volunteers are helping with that. At Good Hope at least we can do everything — all the sports at one location.”
To volunteer, call Catholic Charities at 777-8518 for more information.
There was little ceremony to the early Monday program kickoff. DeJongh spoke briefly about how the program came to be, then gathered with all the kids, counselors, volunteers and programs directors for a group photo and some pressing of the flesh. Then the counselors gathered up the kids and began playing in earnest.
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