‘Happy Campers Week’ gives seniors a week-long vacation

STRONGSVILLE, Ohio — On Cheerful Lane, visitors will find upwards of 50 happy campers. Lavonia Allen is one of them.


What You Need To Know

  • Happy Campers Week is a getaway for nursing home and assisted-living residents from St. Augustine Health Ministries
  • Upwards of 50 campers attend the event
  • Some stay the night in handicap-accessible cabins, some come for the day
  • The annual event is funded by donations and is free to residents

“You can go swimming. You can pet the horses. You can talk to the horses,” said Allen, a resident of St. Augustine Manor, a skilled-nursing facility in northeast Ohio.

St. Augustine Health Ministries offers a one-of-a-kind camping getaway called Happy Campers Week every August. It’s a week-long trip for residents from the nonprofit’s nursing home and assisted-living facilities.

“There are so many disabled children as well as adults who like to feel a part of living in life. And this place makes you feel like that, that you’re a part of living in life, not just a facility,” Allen said. “It’s really beautiful and nice. The way they have the helpers assist us and keep us, you know, comfortable on all levels, then that’s what makes it fun. Because we can enjoy ourselves. And we have no worries.”

At the camp, disability, age and illness are not focused on. Instead, the goal is to help campers get to feel human again.

“Just because of their, because of their age, disability or illness doesn’t mean that they still shouldn’t have a quality of life and be able to do things that any of us can, you know, that any of us do. And so we make it happen,” said Dana Carns, the advancement director for St. Augustine Health Ministries.

Carns said the nonprofit has hosted the getaway for nearly 20 years, thanks to its staff and many volunteers. It’s their first time hosting the camp in two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we’re out here and can see what it does for them, for their spirits, for their overall wellness, and just what it gives to them, the life that it gives to them,” Carns said. “You think back on this long week, and it’s a long week, but we’ve truly made a difference in people’s lives. And that’s what it’s all about. There’s no greater gift for me.”

Carns said people living in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities often aren’t able to enjoy time away from their homes. This camp is something many of the residents look forward to each year.

“Definitely a vacation. “Definitely,” Allen said. “You feel like they’re making you the, the special event, because they’re doing it for you. And it just feels good.”

It’s quiet, relaxing and also full of fun. Campers are offered a schedule of events, but have the freedom to do as they please. They can sit outside and enjoy the wilderness, pet the horses, go swimming, play board games and much more. Carns said the camp really only has one goal, to make everyone a happy camper.

“I’m a happy camper. Yep, I really am,” Allen said. “It really is a great experience. And I would suggest it for anyone and everyone, if they could. I think those without disabilities would enjoy it here because it’s just that kind of place.”

Carns said Happy Campers Week costs about $20,000 to put on each year and is completely funded by donations. more information on the camp can be found here.

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