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Shady Oaks Camp marks 70th summer of fun

The SouthtownStar - 9/1/2017

Sept. 04--Every year, for the past 70 years, Richard Lazar has spent his summer at Shady Oaks Camp in Homer Glen.

It's a tradition that began when his parents helped start the camp for people with disabilities 70 years ago. The date gets marked on the calendar and throughout the year Lazar still asks about when he gets to go to camp again.

"He lives for it," said his brother, Al, who brought his 78-year-old brother, Richard, to camp this summer. "The whole year revolves around camp. He loves being there."

The camp, originally started to serve children with cerebral palsy, serves children and adults with various disabilities. Campers, counselors and other staff recently ended the camp's 70th season in mid-August.

Through it's one-to-one camper to counselor ratio, campers are able to experience all the traditions of camp -- like swimming, participating in talent shows or exploring the trails. Campers sleep in traditional camp style dorms and eat their meals in a cafeteria. A recreation center provides space for crafts and games. Camp workers also recently transformed a dorm building into a sensory room with bean bags, lights and other features.

This season, the camp took in 40 campers over an eight week period. Campers could stay for one two-week session or up to eight weeks.

"I'm looking forward to the pool," said 15-year-old Grace Stark, after she checked in to the camp for its first two week session this summer. After a second, she smiled and added she was looking forward to being on her own and away from her parents.

Lisa Szajkovics, of Homer Glen, returned for her eighth summer and stayed for the entire camp season. Her parents, Bob and Sharon, turned to Shady Oaks after their daughter "aged out" of another summer camp program.

"It gives her a opportunity to experience things she wouldn't normally," said Bob Szajkovics, adding that his daughter also gets a chance to meet other people living with disabilities like her.

Camp also provides a learning experience, said Szajkovics, who also serves as president of the camp's board of directors. The camp's executive director, Scott Steele, uses an online site to help with camp counselor recruitment and draws camp counselors from around the globe giving campers a look into other cultures, traditions and languages.

"We have nothing like this at home," said Nikki Dunne, 23, who lives in Ireland but returned for her fifth summer to work as the camp's associate director.

Dunne, who works with autistic children at a special needs school in Ireland, said she enjoys the family-oriented camp and has enjoyed getting to know some of the campers and seeing them each summer. She said the end of each camp season often draws some tearful goodbyes between campers and counselors.

Szajkovics noted campers and counselors form friendships and enjoy their summer together.

"It's all about having a fun time," he said. "The campers are here to provide the best camping experience for the campers."

Shady Oaks also offers a traditional one-week camp for children at the end of the eight week camp for adults and children with disabilities.

More information about the camp, its upcoming fundraisers and volunteer opportunities is at www.shadyoakscamp.org.

Alicia Fabbre is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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(c)2017 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.)

Visit The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.) at www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown

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