For Kelly Riordan, a senior communication sciences and disorders major at UCF, her summer consists of playing video games, watching movies and playing in the sun; however, she is making a difference in the community by doing so. Riordan is doing all these things at the summer camp she developed for children with special needs.
Kelly’s Summer Camp at Morning Star School specializes in activities for children who need extra attention. The camp allows children to participate in numerous activities such as playing on the playground, arts and crafts, video games and other fun outdoor activities. They even have Water Day every Friday with kiddie pools and sprinklers.
“I get to relive my childhood by watching Disney movies, playing on the playground and coloring — lots of coloring,” said Scott Dangel, an employee of the summer camp.
The hours, which are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday, are convenient for working parents. The camp is also an affordable alternative to other summer camps within the community. Riordan said that other camps cost $150 to $200 more than her camp. So while it provides parents a sense of relief financially, it provides even more comfort that their children are in safe care.
Jessica Reynolds, whose child attends the camp, says that “Ms. Kelly is great with children.” Reynolds also said that her daughter gets excited every day on the way to camp.
The camp has an average of 13 children a day with as many as 17 children on some days. Since there are so few children, employees have the opportunity to give each child special attention.
“Each one of my employees has sat down with each child and just talked to them or ate lunch with them," Riordan said. “We want the kids to know that they are really loved by all of us.”
When Rita Ulrich, who started the camp last year, left to teach English in South Korea, Riordan was given the promotion from basic employee to director of the camp. Riordan got a small business license and hired her staff.
“Expansion is something I’m definitely working toward, possibly as early as next summer,” Riordan said.
In order to accomplish this, Riordan said she is going to visit local churches and community centers to scout out possible locations. Riordan is hoping to keep the current location as well as open locations in Orange and Seminole counties.
For Riordan, who has been passionate about children with special needs her whole life, the camp has a special place in her heart.
“I have a cousin who has Rett syndrome,” Riordan said. “I see her in some of my kids at camp, and it is amazing.”
Rett syndrome is a unique developmental disorder that causes problems in brain functions that are responsible for cognitive, sensory, emotion, motor and autonomic function. Riordan said that her cousin, Michelle, has the sweetest smile and the most innocent laugh.
“Michelle is a beautiful girl even if she can’t walk or talk,” Riordan said.
The amount of support the camp is receiving is also an accomplishment for Riordan, who has not only the parents of children behind her but the community as well.
“We received a $500 donation from one family, which we put toward tuition for children to attend the camp,” Riordan said.
The donation allowed four children to attend camp on scholarships.
While the community has been supportive, Riordan said her family is an even bigger support system. She said her mom is always looking for ideas for activities that the children can participate in. Her brother loved the camp so much that he now works there as one of Riordan’s three employees.
Riordan said she would love to continue with the camp after she graduates. She is also planning on getting her sign-language interpreting license after graduating from UCF in December.
“This is really taking off and it is amazing how positive the parents, school and community have been,” Riordan said.
What Reynolds likes most about the camp is the interaction. It is this interaction that Riordan and her staff have with the children that will continue to bring children back every summer and continue to bring new children to experience all the things the camp has to offer.
Children with special needs are presented with many challenges on a daily basis; however, while at Kelly’s Summer Camp, those challenges subside. The only thing the children have to worry about is whether they want to watch Toy Story or play on the Wii. Riordan and her staff manage to take care of the rest, while doing what they love — loving the children.
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