Teen does everything at Camp Easter Seals
NEW CASTLE – What 17-year-old Ashley Neil liked best about her month at Camp Easter Seals in Craig County was doing everything she wanted to do.
The wheelchair-bound young woman from the Williamsville community of Bath County got to spend a month at the camp near New Castle, through a gift from the Make-A-Wish-Foundation. She went horseback riding, did archery, sports, games, went swimming, canoeing, climbed the rock wall, slept in a cabin without air conditioning and basically, did what kids at most summer camps do.
The activities were particularly memorable for her because Neil has cerebral palsy. At Camp Easter Seals United Cerebral Palsy, she didn’t feel different.
When interviewed by The New Castle Record on July 26 as her month’s stay was coming to a close, Neil emphasized she enjoyed the camp because of what she could do.
“I liked everything about camp because I get to be around people like me. And I don’t get that chance too often. They treat me like any camper,” she said.
“I’m just really grateful to get to come to camp for a month,” said Neil, who spent four days at the camp last year. She said she liked this year because she got to participate in the nighttime activities. “There were different themes every night,” she said.”
Riding a black gelding named RC was one of her favorite activities, said Neil, who does horseback riding each Friday at the Virginia Horse Center through the Hoof Beats Therapeutic Riding Center program.
Neil recently completed high school studies through home schooling, and this fall will start classes at Dabney Lancaster Community College. “I plan to study medical terminology and office management. My plans are to be a medical receptionist,” she said.
“I’m hoping to live independently some day. And I think my experience at Camp Easter Seals will add to that, definitely,” she added.
Tuition to attend camp for a week is normally $1,050, camp director Alex Barge said, and $4,250 for a month. “We do have scholarships available.” Make-A-Wish-Foundation
Neil said she intends to keep up through her Facebook page with new friends she made at camp, such as Caroline in Northern Virginia.
In Bath County, she lives with her parents, Leonard and Cheryl Neil. She has a twin brother, Adam, and an older sister, Nicole.
Neil said she hopes her experience at the camp will encourage other people. “I’m hoping to inspire other people never to give up. Camp Easter Seals is a really great camp, the camp staff and the camp director.”
Camp Easter Seals has been operating in Craig County for 55 years. Camp director Alex Barge said the camp has had about 200 campers so far this summer, and the summer season runs through Aug. 18. This week the camp has programs for campers ages 7 to 17 with visual impairment and blindness. Next week is a performing arts camp for kids ages 10 and above. The final week of camp is family week “for kids and their families,” said Barge, who is in his fourth year as camp director.
The 55-year-old camp serves children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities: “Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, autism “and many other wonderful people who come to camp,” Barge said.
“This week we have a group of fraternity guys coming to do building projects. They are building an accessible garden and a lop ropes course, and benches for the campfire and a canopy to camp under,” Barge explained. They are members of Pi Kappa Phi from across the country.
Camp Easter Seals also has weekend camping in the fall and spring, and hosts corporate retreats, weddings and other events.
Barge lives in old Southwest in Roanoke, and after camp season, works out of the office of Easter Seals UPC on Main Street in Salem.