The University Record, April 24, 1995

Campers, staff ask regents to reconsider closing Shady Trails

Campers, staff ask regents to reconsider closing Shady Trails

By Jane R. Elgass

Moving testimony on the value of Camp Shady Trails was presented by staff and campers to the Regents during the public comments session of their meeting last Thursday.

Speakers asked for reconsideration of the decision to close the camp, a summertime program for children with speech and language impairments located near Northport.

The closure was announced March 21 by Holly K. Craig, director of the Communicative Disorders Clinic, because of cutbacks in state funding.

Two campers and two staff members shared their experiences and urged the Regents "to do what you can to keep it alive."

Shanaya Ellsberry, a 16-year-old Detroiter who has spent seven summers at Shady Trails, told the Regents that the camp "was wonderful and changed my life." She said it would be terrible to "lose this grand experience," adding that "you can't imagine what it is to go there." Ellsberry, whose comments were interpreted for the Regents by sign language interpreter Joan E. Smith, said the camp experience improves the lives of those who attend it. "I am begging you to keep this camp open," she concluded.

Also giving compelling testimony was 12-year-old Stacy Klingerman, who has attended the camp for three years. "I want the camp to be a great place for everyone," she said. "You get recognition ... team sports. We like this place. I really want it to be a great place forever, I want everyone to know.

"They need to keep it open," she said. "If they do it for us, we'd be happy for them."

Klingerman's mother told the Regents that Stacy would not have been able to make her presentation before she attended the camp.

Counselor Joseph DeMarsh, a Madonna College student, detailed the importance of the camp to the children, to the people who work there and to the community around Shady Trails.

"The first year, I had an autistic child. He never really talked, was in his own world," DeMarsh said. "The next year he came in and said 'Mr. DeMarsh.' His mother said he had talked about camp the whole year."

DeMarsh said the fact that he "can't give my 110 percent this year has just devastated me."

"I was a follower. The children come as followers and they learn to lead. Please reconsider your decision. It is so hard to say in words. I wish you could come and experience it."

Alumnus Craig Peters, also a counselor, questioned the priorities of the University and wondered why the clinic was not given time to raise funds.

"These things take time," Peters said. "There was no time for us to rally."

He cited the University's priorities of educating students and serving the larger community, adding that the camp also provides an opportunity for research.

"Why do we do away with an opportunity to boost our image of serving the community? The camp serves a very diverse clientele. Why do away with such a gem that shows dedication to diversity and serving the community?"

Peters said the funding loss, around $70,000, "is a drop in the bucket in the University's budget."

He added that the director has said she could reopen the camp as late as May 1 if funding were found.

"I urge you to do what you can to keep it alive."

Citing the "heart-stopping words" and "most powerful testimony you could have heard," Regent Rebecca McGowan asked Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr. for an update on the camp's status at the Regents' meeting on Friday.

He said the Communicative Disorders Clinic will be offering an intensive language program at the clinic for children ages 4-9, a small-group program for stutterers and an intensive therapy program for Detroit children who had attended Shady Trails at a camp owned by the Detroit schools in Chelsea. The three programs will serve about 50 children. Whitaker noted that, because of the locations, they will probably involve more professional staff from the clinic than would be possible at Shady Trails.

Whitaker said Shady Trails had cost about $400,000 to operate, with fees from campers contributing about $55,000. The rest had come from the General Fund and fund-raising, and much of the latter was the money that has been withdrawn by the state.

Whitaker noted that the camp has been a service program of the University and not connected with its education or research missions.

Regent Shirley M. McFee asked Whitaker to look into the possibility of renewing the camping experience in some way, since the children had indicated that was a very important part of their experiences.