Local News

Kids Stars Of Camp Dreamed Up By Aiken

Posted July 16, 2004 9:55 a.m. EDT

— Before Clay Aiken's rise to fame on "American Idol," he wanted to teach children with disabilities. His fame has enabled him to do even more.

The Bubel/Aiken Foundation is launching a new program with the YMCA to give those children an amazing opportunity.

Aiken's life is full of glitz and glamor, but it is the children attending Camp Gonzo who are the shining stars.

The camp is a partnership between the West Cabarrus YMCA and the Bubel/Aiken Foundation.

The summer program focuses on inclusion, where children with and without disabilities interact.

"To actually come in and see the kids actually doing it is something that I had envisioned and dreamed of years before all this happened while working at the Y in Raleigh," Aiken said.

This is the first inclusion program Rebecca Nolan found for her autistic son, Donovan.

"If they are separated by themselves, they kind of pick up on each other, start mimicking each other. With this, it's almost like he's following the lead of the typical children," Nolan said.

The camp counselors are specially trained for dealing with children with disabilities. Since this program is new, they were not sure how it would work. So far, it appears things are working out well.

"It's not our goal to try this and then give up," Aiken said. "If we had tried it and it didn't work, we would have tweaked it and made it work next year. But we're really lucky because it's worked so well."

Camp Gonzo programs are under way in Concord and Kansas City. A third camp is gearing up at the A.E. Finley YMCA in Raleigh, where Aiken got the nickname Gonzo.

"We've got spaces available right now," Aiken said. Families with kids with disabilities [can] sign up their kids for, personally, the best summer camp in Raleigh, because I worked there for years and years."

Aiken says the camp will be back next summer.