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Finding fun and self-esteem in the great outdoors
A  summer camp in the Mohican State Forest lets kids with special challenges discover what they can do

Vivian Goodman
Parents and siblings come for the awards ceremony on the last day of camp.
Courtesy of Vivian Goodman
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This weekend, campers will fold their tents, say their goodbyes and reluctantly leave Camp Nuhop. 

The residential summer camp deep in the woods of the Mohican State Forest is one of only a handful in the state for children and adults with special needs. 

For more than 40 years campers have come from all over the country and the world. WKSU’s Vivian Goodman visited last summer and discovered many campers return every year to learn more about the great outdoors, and their own capabilities.

LISTEN: At home at Camp Nuhop

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Before camp, Matthew Wilson hadn’t ever tried a zip line. He was scared at first. “A little bit,” he admits. “But that’s the point.”

That’s the purpose of the rope course at Camp Nuhop. Trevor Dunlap built it to provide something young people with mental challenges don’t find as easily in the indoor world.

“The opportunity for these kids to get up on this course and build self-esteem by doing something that they didn’t think they could do otherwise.” 

A family business for four decades
Dunlap took over as camp director six years ago after his father died. Jerry and Terrie Dunlap were the camp’s founders.

“It was my husband’s and my idea 40 years ago. I was a special education teacher in Ashland and my husband did outdoor education for Ashland. And I noticed that my students did so well when they were outdoors.” 

Her role now is peripheral. “Right now I’m just very proud of my son that took over.” 

But to former campers like Kevin, she’ll always be “Mom.” He was 13 when he first arrived at Camp Nuhop.

“He’d been taken away from his family and given to the state because his mother didn’t want him anymore, basically. And he was the angriest, nastiest kid. He didn’t want to be here. And he ended up being part of our family. He calls me and he’ll say, “Hi, Mom, it’s Kev.’ He has certainly had his struggles. Certainly. But he’s now in Wisconsin. He has a full-time job.”

They come from all over with all kinds of challenges
Skills and confidence built here may apply down the road. But it’s play, not work, every summer at Camp Nuhop for about 500 kids and young adults.
Summer Director Ann Bell says over the years, they’ve come from 20 different states, and as far away as Australia, Columbia, England and Germany, with a wide variety of challenges.

“We have kids who have Aspergers, and we have kids who are on the higher end of the autism spectrum. We get a lot of mental health kids, a lot of kids who have emotional disturbances, kids with just learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder.”  

About 90 campers take part in each of six, one-week camp sessions through the summer. They swim, canoe, hike, camp under the stars, cook over campfires, appreciate nature, and make friends.

From camper to counselor
Campers are matched by age and compatibility in teams of seven, with three counselors helping each group. Some of the counselors are former campers, like Dave Whitney. He was in eighth grade when he first came to camp. Now he’s 29, and works there.

“It’s been a great experience. I wouldn’t be back here if it wasn’t. I got excited when I got a call a couple months ago, ‘Hey, can you come out and work?’ and I picked up the phone and said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.” 

On the last day of camp, Arlene Porter of Marysville arrives in the middle of a rainstorm to pick up her 18-year-old son Alex.

He has ADHD, dyslexia, and auditory processing disorder, and this is his sixth summer at Camp Nuhop.

“He did not want to come the first time. He was sort of the kid I had to pull out of the car and say, ‘You’re going to have a good time.’ And I knew he would have a good time.
"And now when I pick him up I have to drag him back in the car. He likes it that much. He does. It’s like home to him, a second home.” 

And not just in summer. Alex comes back in other seasons for one-week respite sessions.

“It not only has been camp and respite,” says Arlene Porter, "it’s also been employment because this is the first year Alex has had a job outside of chores at home. He worked the first three sessions as a counselor-in-training.” 

Mud and fun
Brittany Beasley of Mansfield is a counselor-in-training, too.  She’s 24, developmentally delayed, and struggles with short-term memory and reading and writing. Brittany loves little kids and camping in the great outdoors.

“Were you warm enough at night?” her mother asks. “Yeah, I was like fine at night,” Brittany assures her.

“How was the mud pit this week?” asks her father. “Oh, it was a mess,” Brittany laughs. “We like did the mud pit and my pants were covered up to here.” Her eyes brighten as she tells her parents how she taught the little kids to dive and crawl through the mud.

Mark Beasley likes what camp has done for his daughter. “Stretched boundaries.” And Rhonda Beasley enjoys the respite when Brittany’s at camp.

"Because I spend the most time with her, it’s a little bit of a break just knowing that she’s doing something fun and she’s safe, and it allows me a little bit of alone time which we all need occasionally.”  

Friends to laugh with and come back to
And who doesn’t occasionally need a friend?

Tristan Young of North Canton found a good one at Camp Nuhop. Tristan is 21. His friend Wesley Gambler is 25.

“I met Tristan here at Camp Nuhop, I think it was last year," says Wesley. ”We kind of joke around and have fun.” Tristan says Wesley makes him laugh. This is Wesley’s 13th summer at Camp Nuhop.

 Brittany Beasley, too, has come back year after year to join what her parents call her ‘extended family.’

“Everybody is like glad that I come back and stuff. ... I like seeing the people and stuff and like being with them."

 Is it going to be sad to go home today? “A little bit,” she says, “but not a lot.”

The campers will be home for Independence Day, feeling just a little more independent. And counselors and professional staff get a whole week off before the next camp session starts July 14th.





















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