Summer Camp Fund

Camp serving special needs youth lets ‘your child to be a child’

Xavier and Ethan Stimpson on the playground at Freedom Park with Camp Trusted Parents.
Xavier and Ethan Stimpson on the playground at Freedom Park with Camp Trusted Parents. jmiller@mcclatchy.com

Xavier Stimpson is the best kind of big brother.

He’s kind, easy-going, and generous with his games and snacks. He’s 13, and likes to hang out and play basketball with his younger brother. He looks out for Ethan.

Ethan Stimpson is an understanding little brother. He’s 8, and loves to spend time with Xavier. They are as tight as brothers can be.

Xavier was excited to hear that he’d be going to camp for the first time this summer. Ethan was a little nervous, but glad that Xavier would be with him. By the end of the first day, both boys couldn’t wait to go back.

It’s an unusual camp because Xavier is a teenager with special needs – a kid whose severe autism means he’ll probably always remain childlike – even as his body grows. The younger Ethan has no disability.

At Camp Trusted Parents, both are welcome.

There, the brothers spend their days swimming, doing arts and crafts projects, going on field trips and playing with their new friends. The camp is based at Queens University of Charlotte, which Ethan especially loves because he gets to see college kids and eat lunch in their cafeteria.

“I like the camp. I like to swing,” Xavier says in his slow, measured tone. “I like to play football. I’m playing very good football.”

“The field trips are really fun, on one at Lazy 5 Ranch I saw a bison, a llama and a water buffalo,” the quick-talking, detail-oriented Ethan says. “My favorite part of camp is the food. The food is really, really good. My favorite? The French fries, but even the vegetables are really good.”

This year, The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund is providing 10 scholarships for children to attend Camp Trusted Parents. Collectively, their disabilities include Down Syndrome, autism and other intellectual and physical challenges. A few siblings without disabilities also go to the camp.

They’re among more than 1,000 kids attending 37 camps this summer thanks to donations from readers and the community.

“This is the first camp he has ever attended, it has answered my prayers,” said Karen Proctor, whose son Christopher is a sweet, stylishly-dressed, music-loving 17-year-old with autism. “I haven’t had to worry about him at all…everything is run beautifully, I actually cried at orientation, I was overwhelmed that he could benefit from this.

“You want your child to be a child, you want them to experience what normal children do,” Proctor said. “This is a blessing.”

Nikia Bye is the executive director and force behind Camp Trusted Parents. Her son, Malyk, is 16 and has autism, and she’s a long-time advocate for him and others. She started the camp three years ago because she saw the need to give children fun, healthy activities and structure when school’s out. She invited siblings to make it easier for families. Camp gives parents a break from the demands of having a child with special needs. And in some cases, it helps them keep their jobs.

On a field trip to Freedom Park, Bye seems like the head of a Secret Service detail. Her eyes are everywhere as she and five counselors communicate through radios to keep each other posted on the kids.

Molly’s on the swings. Hector’s heading to play football. Alita’s gabbing on the bench. Someone’s always asking for a drink of water, a Band-Aid, a snack, or a dose of reassurance.

Bye is quick with a laugh or hug, but firm about her expectations. When a kid says he can’t open a water bottle, she tells him to try. When he finds out he can, he grins at his accomplishment.

She stresses behavior that will help them in life: Wait your turn. Pick up after yourself. Try harder.

“I love these kids but I don’t baby them – I reach for what’s inside them,” she said. “You have to bring out the best in them.”

Tammy Stimpson says both of her boys come home happy and tired after camp. The more talkative Ethan gives her daily rundowns of everything they did. It reassures her to know he’s there for Xavier.

“He realizes that he doesn’t have a disability, but he also recognizes where he can help someone else,” she said.

The two brothers have been close from the onset.

Ethan was just a baby when she and her husband heard Xavier, then 5, speak his first sentence that they could understand. Ethan had stuffed a toy in his mouth and a worried Xavier yelled: “Get it out of your mouth!”

“They really look out for each other,” she said.

To give to the Summer Camp Fund

Donate at charlotteobserver.com/summercampfund. Or send donations to The Summer Camp Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269.

Each Sunday during the drive, the Observer will list contributors in the Local section. If you wish to make an anonymous donation, indicate it on the “for” line of your check or on PayPal, note your preference in the special instructions field. To donate in honor or in memory of someone, use the “for” line or special instructions field. Donations are tax-deductible and are processed through Observer Charities, a 501(c)(3).

If you have questions about your donation: 704-358-5520.

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