ORRUM — Eleven horses, 20 chickens and 40 acres all added up to countless memories for the children and families attending the Lazy L Ranch on Friday.
The daylong event was the culmination of a week of activities lined up by the Robeson County Parks and Recreation Department, which played host to its first Summer Playground Day Camp event for children with special health-care needs.
The activities began on Monday with a music and crafts day during which kids got an opportunity to design their own tie-dye T-shirts, continued on Tuesday with a private sensory friendly film at the Millstone Movie Theater in Fayetteville, then on Wednesday the children got to attend a splash pad water park in Laurinburg and on Thursday they were treated to a day of bowling at the Lumberton Bowling Center.
“She has just loved it, absolutely loved every moment of it,” said Regina Baxley, mother to 9-year-old Phyllis Oxendine, one of more than 20 children who took part in the camp.
“Compared to last summer, this is night and day,” Baxley said. “She has gotten to come out and interact with other children and just have fun. It is just awesome how people care about making sure these kids have a good time.”
Though the Parks and Recreation Department has routinely held summer activities for Robeson County children, this was the first year the department had sought to line up activities especially for special needs children. The idea for the camp came about after the department was approached by April Oxendine, coordinator of the Robeson County Health Department’s Innovative Approaches Initiative, which oversees a support group for parents who are raising children with special needs.
According to April Oxendine, the idea for the camp was immediately embraced by Parks Department Director Wendy Chavis; however, as it was not in this year’s budget, she had to first approach county commissioners to secure funding for the week-long summer event.
“The commissioners agreed to pay for it out of their own discretionary money, and it has just been wonderful,” Chavis said. “How many kids with special needs can say that they have fished? I love it. I just love it. It is such a special day and this is something I think all of these kids are going to remember for a long time.”
The Health Department considers any child who has a medical condition that lasts more than six months to be special needs. Many of the children attending have physical or mental disabilities that might make it harder for them to attend a typical summer camp event.
“This camp has been officially added to the budget for the next year,” Chavis said. “It has been such a success. We want to do more for this group of kids throughout the year. We want to hold a beauty contest for them later in the year … We want to cater to all of the kids in the county, whatever their needs. We get the joys and the benefits of all of these little smiles.”
Commissioner Tom Taylor had recommended the Lazy L Ranch, having been a longtime horse riding enthusiast. About $3,000 came from the commissioners to support the effort.
“Today is coming out of my travel money, but it is a great opportunity to invest back in our community,” Taylor said. “I just wanted to use my travel money to give back to the kids that need it… This is what it is about. Looking after these kids.”
Also in attendance was Berlester Campbell, who will be joining the county Board of Commissioners in December.