In 1975, the need for a safe and fun camp environment for children, youth and adults with special needs was identified and brought to the attention of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. A team was formed, volunteers recruited and the message sent out to potential campers. The camp was a success and thus began Special Camps.
For more than 40 years, the legacy of sharing God’s love and joy in a camp setting has continued because of the relationships built by the campers, volunteers and families/guardian of campers. Special Camps is no longer an organization associated with the United Methodist Church, but rather a Christ-focused nonprofit with a vision to bring joy and enrichment to the lives of special needs individuals and their loved ones.
Today, with the support of more than 100 volunteer counselors, nurses, program organizers and directors, we serve approximately 150 campers.
Campers at Special Camps will have a fun outdoor camp experience and learn about Christ’s love, while creating lasting friendships with other campers and volunteers.
Board of Directors
Older Adult Director
Donna Davitte, Diana Russell, Margaret Todd
Download our newsletters and annual reports below.
Special Camps is my personal ministry. This organization has not only given me the opportunity to use my spiritual gifts to serve others, but the campers are so loving that they minister to me. It is no surprise that we talk about, and look forward to, the camps all year long!
Jay Byham - Special Camps Volunteer
From the moment I arrived at Special Camps over a decade ago, I felt like I joined a big family! The campers have taught me so much, and have shown me how to cheer others on, how to be a good friend and how to see the best in others. Through fun activities, music, crafts, and chats at mealtime, I have made many friends and always look forward to camp in the summertime.
Allison Hendrix - Special Camps Volunteer
Special Camps has been a part of my life since 1979 and is something I still treasure each year. As a professional educator in the field of special education, it has been a blessing to spend time with campers who teach me as much as I teach them. Many of my former students have been involved in the special camp experience as campers beginning as children through adulthood. I personally enjoyed summer camp growing up, and I love being able to share camping with people of all ages and abilities. I cannot imagine my life without Special Camps.
Sherry Sublett - Special Camps Volunteer
"Every year my aunt, Cathy, looks forward to Adult Special Camp at Camp Sumatanga. She can't wait to see her old friends, some of them she's known for over 40 years, and make new ones. When I drop her off she is always welcomed with open arms, love and excitement. Cathy enjoys the arts & crafts and activities, but I think what she loves most is just feeling accepted and part of something. Camp has meant so much to her over the years...something to look forward to. We thank every worker and volunteer that has dedicated their time to making it such a special place for so many adults with disabilities. You make a difference in their lives!"
Wendy Lawless - Camper Cathy Wiley's Guardian
Special Camps is a place where you can truly be yourself. You receive unconditional love regardless who or what you are. My camp family has changed my life all for the better. We are so excited for camp each year, and I am always counting the days down to be reunited with all of my camp family.
Darlene Spruill - Special Camps Adult Camp Director
The best part of Special Camps is hearing about campers looking forward all year long to their time at camp. So many campers have been coming for years and as a rookie myself, it's inspiring to hear stories and traditions from so many years past. As soon as I was introduced to Special Camps, I knew it would capture my heart. I was fortunate enough to hear about the blessings that Special Camps had brought to counselors and wanted to be a part of building on memories for years to come. Special Camps captivated me by reminding me just how simple it is to bring a tremendous amount of joy and happiness to others. I hope to continue to spread Special Camps blessings and encourage others to make the biggest difference in the life of the sweetest people.
Maggie Mason - Special Camps Board Member
I really enjoy spending time with my friends and counselors during Special Camps. Some of my favorite parts of camp are breakfast, swimming, hiking, arts and crafts, and archery. Everyone was really nice and I had a great time. I hope we get to have camp again soon and I really hope we can have a slip and slide.
Jordan Marsh - Camper
I don’t remember a time before Special Camps was “home” to me. My parents, Larry and Margaret Stephens, first introduced me in 1985, when I was 2 years old. Because of their involvement and dedication, our family participated in Summer and Fall Special Camps every year. It was just what we did.
When I was 13, I got to stay the whole week as a babysitter for another “camp baby” whose parents were volunteers. Beginning at age 14, I was a counselor for 5 years, and then a group leader for 7 years. In 2009, I became a Director, and trained under Barbara Euler, who had been the first Adult Special Camps Director. When Special Camps became a nonprofit, I served as the first Board President. I stepped down as both Board President and Director when I became Operations Director in 2020.
Having grown up at Special Camps, many campers, counselors, and their families became an extension of my own family. Special Camps is more than a location. It is a group of volunteers, campers, and families who come together to appreciate, love, and encourage one another in our joys and struggles, not just at camp, but throughout the year. We welcome both new and seasoned volunteers and campers each year to be part of an experience that, by God’s grace, always surpasses our expectations. It is an example of God’s love and grace in action for which I am incredibly grateful.
From my earliest memory, I have been a part of Special Camps, and Special Camps has been a part of me.
Joy Davis - Special Camps Operations Director
Open and Closing Times
Youth Camp registration opens on Monday, July 19, 2021 at 9:00am. Adult Camp registration opens on Monday, July 19, 2021 at 10:00am. Both sessions close on Saturday, July 24, 2021 at 8:30am following breakfast.
Registration/check-in begins Monday, July 19, 2021 at 9 a.m. for Youth Camp and 10 a.m. for Adult Camp. Please have the camper’s medications ready to provide to the nurses. All campers are expected to remain at camp until the morning of Saturday, July 24, 2021. If a camper needs to leave before the close of camp, parents or guardians are required to complete the early checkout information online or complete the Camper Checkout Form (D) provided by the Special Camps Director.
Older Adult Camp registration opens on Thursday, November 04, 2021 at 4:00pm.
Registration/check-in begins Thursday, November 04, 2021 at 4 p.m. for Older Adult Camp. Please have the camper’s medications ready to provide to the nurses. All campers are expected to remain at camp until after lunch on Sunday, November 07, 2021. If a camper needs to leave before the close of camp, parents or guardians are required to complete the early checkout information online or complete the Camper Checkout Form (D) provided by the Special Camps Director.
2021 Camp Theme: Camp Hollywood
The camp theme for 2021 will be “Camp Hollywood.” Events, activities, skits and devotionals will be centered on Biblical stories and lessons related to this theme.
Frequently Asked Questions
I see the name ESG Foundation. Is that the same thing as Special Camps Foundation?
Yes. In 2019 a nonprofit was created with the mission to continue to provide camping experiences for our special friends. The name ESG Foundation was chosen to honor 3 people who were instrumental to this ministry. E – Barbara Euler, S – Larry Stephens and G – Judy Gattis. We do business as Special Camps Foundation because its less confusing to our campers and their families.
Who can attend camp?
Individuals with cognitive disabilities who can readily participate in group experiences are invited to enroll. Individuals should be ambulatory with good toileting skills, capable of following directions, and able to feed, dress, and take care of their personal hygiene with little to no assistance.
What is the difference in the 3 camps?
We offer 3 camping programs designed for a range of ages. Our Youth Camp is designed for those ages 13 – 25. Our Adult Summer Camp is designed for ages 25 – 45. Our Older Adult Camp is designed for ages 45 and up.
It is our goal that no camper be excluded because of ability to pay. Need-based scholarships are available. For more information, please contact your session’s Camp Director.
What is a typical day for a camper?
Each day brings new adventures but for a typical day we rise at 6:00 am and we eat breakfast at 7:30 am. Scheduled morning activities are rotated by groups but each group will be able to participate in each of the scheduled activities throughout the week. Boating, fishing, archery, hay less hayride, crafts and much more. Lunch is served at 12:00 pm followed by a much needed flat time and then to be refreshed with swim time. Dinner is served at 5:30 and after dinner there is always a group activity. Group activities could include: games, music concerts, skit night and the famous Special Camp Dance Night. We end the evening with a bedtime snack and lights out at 9:00.
What is the camper to counselor ratio?
We strive for a ratio of 1 counselor per 2 campers.
Where is special camps located?
Currently we are renting the facility at Camp Sumatanga, 3616 Sumatanga Road, Gallant, AL 35792.
Is there medical staff at camp?
Yes, we have a medical team that provides care for your camper during camp. We have a team of nurses on site who ensure your campers get any daily medication or care they need, and are available 24/7 to address any medical problems that may arise during the week.
Your participation makes our camps even more special.
It is our goal to provide camping experiences for special needs youth and adults. Each Special Camps session is unique and tailored with the needs of our campers in mind. Let us know if we could be of help to you and your family and please contact us for ways you can help us serve our families.