Welcome to Special Camps, where we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the magic of the great outdoors. Our special needs camps are designed to provide a safe, inclusive, and fun environment specifically for those with intellectual/cognitive and developmental disabilities.
We offer special needs camps for youth (ages 13-25), adults (ages 25-45), and senior adults (ages 45+). Special Camps offers several camping events throughout the year our Summer and Fall camps are held at Camp Sumatanga in Gallant, AL. We are staffed by volunteers who are experienced in working with individuals with special needs. Our programming is geared for those that are mobile without assistance, can take care of their personal hygiene, and that are cleared by medical personnel for the stress of camping activities (in heat) and communal living. Our campers will have the opportunity to participate in traditional camp activities such as swimming, hiking, arts and crafts and are all designed to provide a supportive environment where campers can build self-esteem, independence, and social skills while having fun and making new friends.
Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity for your loved one with special needs. Join us at Special Camps for one of our camping experiences you’ll never forget.
Board of Directors
Operations Director / Adult Director / Fall Director
Stephen loves all the interactions from camp counselors to room mates to everyone involved. He gains strength in his abilities and self esteem. He loves all those he comes in contact. He grows a closer relationship with Christ. He builds friendships with others that last outside of camp.
Everyone there has a positive outlook and it rubs off on the campers. They are allowed to show and be their true selves. . They are given the opportunity to push through their fears of trying new things. They come home feeling they are truly valued and loved.
We are greeted with love from the moment we drive up to the moment we leave. We truly feel that our family members are wanted there and to some of the special needs parents this is not always the case in other situations. We know when we drop off our family members they are in great hands. The comfort of not having to worry about their treatment gives us so much peace. When we drive away we know our family members are going to have a time of their life and that love will be poured into them from all those around.
Jill Windham - Camper Stephen Windham
Special camp has been one of the most fun weeks I’ve had at camp Sumatanga, while being full time staff I had to go through some pretty amazing campers but no kids have shown more love and had more fun than these kids. It might be scary before you start but the second you meet this campers and see how excited they are to be here you won’t regret being here. All in all Best Camp ever.
As ESG Foundation's BOD President, I am profoundly thankful for our Special Camp family. We are not just an organization, but an ensemble of mirth, affection, and dedication. Our camp radiates positivity, offering a safe haven where acceptance is not an exception but a norm, and joy is a routine.
The connection with my 'camp family' is beyond a conventional relationship. We, as volunteers, are a close-knit family, united by our noble cause to serve this special population. Each member brings their own shining enthusiasm and zeal, aligned perfectly with our collective pledge to create a tangible impact in our campers' lives.
The ESG Foundation isn't just an organization, but a wholesome family and a testament to unconditional love. It embodies the laughter of our campers, the hope of their families, and epitomizes the essence of humanity. Being part of such a family fills me with gratitude, and reinforces my belief in the power of love through our Saviour, Jesus Christ!
To every member of ESG Foundation and Special Camp—kudos for your indomitable spirit. Your dedication changes lives every day. I am incredibly proud and privileged to be a part of this magnificent family.
Bryan Wilks - BOD President
Special camps have been a very meaningful part of my adult life. The campers show so much love, joy, compassion, kindness, humility, patience, gentleness, and other desirable traits, that we all can learn from them in our Christian life.
John Gaston - 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
I started with Special Camps many many years ago when I was a little 13 year old girl. I had never been away from home, scared to death, and very anxious as to what was to come the summer of 1992. After the first day I knew I was exactly where The Lord wanted me to be. It is so hard for me to explain the love, the unconditional love you will receive while serving with Special Camps. Special Camps is a place where you can truly be yourself as well as receive truth. My camp family has changed my life, all for the better. I am thankful for Mrs. Euler and John Gaston seeing something in me even when I was only 13 years old. I now am able to share Special Camps with my family and we are able to all serve together. It is an honor to be able to serve along side so many wonderful servants of Christ. We would love for you to join our Camp Family.
Darlene Spruill - Special Camps Operations Director
Adam loves camp so much. It is the highlight of his year! I enjoy knowing that he is having fun in a safe, Christian environment with people who care about the campers enough to donate their time and talents. You truly show the love of Jesus to him.
Carol Watkins - Camper Adam Watkins Camper
A week of Blessings for the Campers, their Guardians, and the Volunteers!
Art Zimmerman - 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 2019
I became a special camps nurse in 1995. Summer Camp 2023 was my last one as a nurse. Being a Special Camps nurse has impacted my life in so many ways. Lessons in humility, lessons in grace, lessons on unconditional love. Rewarding in too many ways to count. Friends made, friends lost. I've watched campers, children, grandchildren, Sunday school kids and family grow up. My mom and I had a chance to work together there in the nurse's hut. And it always goes back to a young preacher saying yes to Barbara Euler. Friends, take a chance on God and say yes to something unknown. Say yes to love.
Margaret Stephens Todd - Special Camps Nurse
Open and Closing Times
Youth and Adult Camp Registration opens in April.
Older Adult Camp registration opens in September.
It is the goal of the ESG Foundation “Special Camps” to provide a safe and friendly environment for all who attend our camping programs. Campers are expected to adhere to the following policies and procedure.
All required forms must be signed and submitted to camp staff prior to the start of camp.
Only Campers who have registered in advance of opening day and been cleared by our medical staff will be allowed to participate in our sessions. At registration, campers and their medications/medical forms will again be reviewed by our medical staff, and everything must be in order, for a camper to be allowed to stay.
Unless otherwise noted by camp medical staff, all prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs will be surrendered to the medical staff at check-in. Guardians must pick up these medications in person at check-out.
If a situation changes and a camper cannot attend a session, the camp director must be informed within 30 days of opening day for a refund to be considered. If a camper is going to be late for registration or pick-up the camp director must be notified as soon as possible.
Campers must be free from any contagious diseases, such as cold, flu, COVID-19, or fever for at least 48 hours before attending any camping program.
Campers are responsible for bringing enough of the items identified in the registration information which includes clothing, swimming attire, towels, washcloths, bug spray, sheets/blankets, sunscreen, and all personal care items. Comfortable light-colored clothing is best along with closed-toed shoes such as sneakers. Sandals and flip-flops are needed for pool time and showering. Campers are not to bring cell phones, iPod, toys, or electronic games.
NOT ALLOWED – items of clothing that make references to cigarettes, alcohol, or illegal drugs. Additionally, clothing items that are overly tight-fitting, overly loose, revealing, or otherwise inappropriate for our camp setting will not be permitted. If something is “questionable,” please leave it at home. Camp leadership has the responsibility to encourage appropriate dress and reserves the right to ask a camper to change clothes if necessary.
Swimming attire is just that: only to be worn at swim time. We require modest swimming attire for all. Ladies are required to wear a one-piece or tankini swimsuit (no mid-drift should show, and no glutes should show). Gentlemen are required to wear long trunks, no speedos.
ESG Foundation, the camp, camp staff, or volunteers are not responsible for the theft or loss of any item that the camper brings to camp. In addition, these parties are not responsible for items left at the camping site or the return of said items. It is the responsibility of the parents/caregivers to coordinate with the camping site on the location or return of lost property.
ESG Foundation understands that from time to time all Campers need support and redirection. When consistent and/or escalating behavior compromises the staff’s ability to facilitate program activities and/or supervise the group, suspension from the program may be required. Campers who exhibit poor behavior will be subject to dismissal from the camp. Refunds are not given when Campers are suspended or dismissed for inappropriate behavior. Guardians will be notified of the behavioral issues and will be expected to pick up their camper immediately.
Behavior Management -ESG Foundation’s philosophy on discipline is based on respect for the camper’s self-esteem, setting reasonable limits, and consequences, and encouraging self-discipline. All Campers will be expected to act in a manner that demonstrates the values of caring, respect, responsibility, and honesty. ESG Foundation reserves the right to suspend and/or dismiss any Camper based on the Camper’s actions and behaviors. Immediate suspension may occur if a Camper: 1)threatens harm to another 2) attempts to and/or strikes a staff member or other participant 3)demonstrates violence and/or aggressiveness 4) willfully leaves or does not return to the program area without permission from the staff 5) uses profanity 6) is verbally disrespectful to peers or volunteers/staff 7) damages or takes the property of the program or others 8) repeatedly refuses to comply with verbal directions from staff 9) in any way compromises their safety or the safety of others. ESG Foundations reserves the right to deny invitations back to our programming based on previous behavioral issues.
ESG Foundation has a zero-tolerance policy for real OR toy weapons, alcohol, and illegal drugs of any kind. Violators of this policy will be suspended.
2023 Camp Theme: Pirates who Pray
Décor: could be shipwrecks, boats, oars, ship steering wheel, fish, fishing nets, parrots, spy glasses, treasure chests, pirate hats and eye patches
Frequently Asked Questions
When was Special Camps formed?
In 1975, the need for a safe and fun camp environment for children, youth and adults individuals 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.
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 individuals with special needs. The name ESG Foundation was chosen to honor 3 of many people who were instrumental to this ministry. E – Barbara Euler, S – Larry Stephens and G – Judy Gattis. We do business as Special Camps simply because its less confusing to our campers and camper 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 email email@example.com asking for more information.
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 8:00 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 during summer camp. 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?
Our Summer and Fall camps are currently is currently held 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.
What should I bring to camp? What should I not bring to camp?
Items you will need for Camp – Please add your campers name to all items being brought to camp.
Shirts and Pants/Shorts
A minimum of 8 outfits for summer (preferably shorts, no pants it is too hot)
A minimum of 5 outfits for fall
Light Jacket for summer and Jacket for fall (please check the weather for appropriate layers)
A minimum of 8 each for summer (preferably shorts, no pants it is too hot)
A minimum of 5 each for fall
Pajamas (2 sets minimum)
Flip Flops/Sandals (shower and or pool shoes)
Swimsuit (ladies one piece and or tankini, no two pieces and men swim trunks, no speedos.)
Twin Sheets, Blanket, Pillow
Towels for Bathing (minimum of 2)
Washcloth (minimum of 2)
Toiletry Items (body soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, hairbrush, all other personal hygiene items)
Your participation makes our camps even more special.
It is our goal to provide camping experiences for individuals with special needs for 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.