When Eunice Kennedy Shriver realized there were no summer camps for students with intellectual disabilities back in 1960, she decided to start her own — right in her backyard. That backyard camp became the international organization known as Special Olympics.
For the past nine years, Special Olympics has run one South Florida camp each summer at the city of Miami’s Sandra DeLuca Development Center. BOOM Miami, one of eight teams that make up the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Miami, worked with Special Olympics to help open a second camp in Liberty City.
Leadership Miami is a group of 150 professionals in Miami who focus on making Miami a better place for the next generation. Part of the project includes partnering with a nonprofit organization to create a tangible outcome.
“We all felt that the Special Olympics was the most influential partner and where we would create the most impactful project,” said Michelle Beumer, leader of BOOM Miami.
One of the biggest barriers to bringing students to Camp Shriver is transportation. While running a Young Athletes program in Liberty City, Special Olympics Florida saw the need for a camp in the area. Instead of bringing students from Liberty City to the current camp location, Special Olympics decided to bring the camp to the students.
“We recognized what a huge need there is for Camp Shriver and it makes more sense for us to actually bring a program to a community that needs it, rather than expecting them to be able to get transportation,” said Linsey Harris Smith, director of the Southeast region of Special Olympics Florida.
The team plans to open the camp this year to give Miami youths an accepting environment to play sports and learn how to live healthy lives. They are currently looking for a location to host a spring break camp in Opa-locka, which will be a model for the summer camp that should run this summer.
During Camp Shriver, students participate in sports training and other activities such as yoga and arts and crafts; camp is free for all participants.
What makes the program unique is that it is inclusive: Students with and without intellectual disabilities participate in camp activities together as a way to cultivate friendships and create a culture of acceptance.
“Initially when the campers without intellectual disabilities start the summer, I think that they view it as a volunteer experience and they might want community hours. At the end they really are calling the other campers friends,” Smith said. “It really is, in a very organic way, breaking down barriers and I don’t think it’s possible in other ways.”
Camp Shriver is open to students with intellectual disabilities from ages 14 to 22 and students without intellectual disabilities from ages 14 to 18. Special Olympics is currently looking for volunteers to help with this project. To help, call 305-406-9467 or visit specialolympicsflorida.org.