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Hometown Hero: Camp Buddy

Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 3:45 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Some local students are actually excited to be back into school this week so that they can get the most out of their summer vacation.

The WTOC Hometown Heroes who run the Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society’s Camp Buddy are once again offering the fun form of education they came up with more than a decade ago.

The sprint has become a marathon in Effingham County - and for the week-long camp that for 13 years has been completing summertime for children with Down Syndrome.

“It’s just been amazing to watch them. Every year, they accomplish more and more. Every year they exceed the expectations we put out for them,” Molly Marchese said.

Camp Buddy started when Ella Marchese was three years old, and her mother found out there was not a summer program to help her to retain what she had learned that year in pre-school. So Molly Marchese started one.

“The therapists that are actually still the original therapist and special education teacher, they’re amazing, they have stuck with us every summer and planned this incredible curriculum for Camp Buddy,” Marchese said.

It’s a curriculum rooted in fun but geared toward development - classroom projects and physical activities that teach new skills and reinforce others.

“We just present challenges in a fun way, challenge their motor skills, their cognitive and intellectual skills, fine motor as well as their oral motor and speech skills,” Joy Marshall said.

“They work so hard during the school year, we want to continue working on the things that are challenges for them but also celebrate the things they do really well.”

There is an added sense of celebration this week in Effingham with Camp Buddy back in-person and with full enrollment for the first time in three years.

It will be the same for a second week of camp in Chatham County next month - with kids learning without every knowing it and the WTOC Hometown Hero instructors having just as much fun teaching them.

“Camp Buddy is an amazing experience for these kids and I can’t wait to continue to see them grow.”

“It makes them more functional in the community and we facilitate the skills they use in school as well. Ultimately, that’s the goal so that the kids are integrated into the community.”

“I’ve seen so many of the high school kids that were in elementary school and they have grown to be an amazing teenager. And so, I can’t wait to see the younger kids turn into teenagers and see what they do,” Emma Whitaker said.

In addition to the professional staff of instructors, several college and high school students are volunteering their time as counselors at Camp Buddy this week.

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