Camp Twin Lakes provides respite for kids with challenges.

Morgan McGahan points to all the activities she loves at Camp Twin Lakes.

Morgan McGahan points to all the activities she loves at Camp Twin Lakes.

For the last four years, 18-year-old Buckhead resident Morgan McGahan has attended Camp Twin Lakes (CTL), a safe, welcoming refuge for kids with serious illnesses, disabilities and other challenges.

“It’s my favorite place in the world,” she says. “At Camp Twin Lakes, no one makes me feel different because I have a rare syndrome called Apert that affects my face, feet and hands. Since the bones in my face don’t grow normally, it’s hard for me to pronounce things. When I go to public places, people stare at me. At camp, no one stares. At camp, I realize that I am not alone in the world and that people are there for me.”

Morgan’s enthusiasm mirrors that of the 100,000 Georgia children that CTL, which is accredited by the American Camp Association, has served since 1993. Through week-long summer camps and year-long weekend retreats at three fully accessible and medically supportive campsites, day camps and hospital-based programs, the organization gives kids a break from the challenges they face daily.

“Every year, we serve more than 10,000 campers,” says Dan Mathews, director of camping services. “We provide a safe space, a boost in self confidence and independence and, most of all, the freedom to experience the joys of childhood.”

Mathews knows all too well the challenges campers face. His daughter was born with a cleft palate and deals with issues similar to those faced by Morgan. “At ‘Camp Courage’ [CTL’s nickname], everyone looks one another in the eye, and no heads turn when kids with cranial facial differences enter the dining hall. It’s a far different experience than the kids face at school,” he says. “Many like Morgan are even willing to perform in talent shows, something they would never do at their home schools.”

Every week during the summer months, 350 campers and at least one counselor for every three campers enjoy activities such as swimming, zip lining, horseback riding, mini-golf, arts and crafts and organized sports at sites in Rutledge, Winder and Warm Springs, Georgia. Referrals come through CTL’s collaboration with nearly 60 nonprofits that each serve a different illness or disability, such as children with cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes and more. Programs are then tailored to their specific medical needs.

To ensure safety for all attendees, a medical coordinator is on staff, and programming is overseen by a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. In addition, every staffer is specially trained in adaptable and accessible programming.

As an extension of the camps for kids, CTL offers year-round weekend retreats for families, siblings of campers, teens and children too young to attend. Other retreats include programs for caregivers, Wounded Warriors and the kids of service men and women.

For more information, visit camptwinlakes.org.

DONATION INFORMATION

Camp Twin Lakes receives no funding through the government or United Way, and relies heavily on donations to produce each camper’s experience that costs approximately $1,000 per week. Interested in contributing? Buy a Partners Card for $60 to receive a discount of 20 percent at more than 400 shops and restaurants from Oct. 28 to Nov. 6, or purchase a ticket to or a table at CTL’s 25th Anniversary Gala at the Georgia Aquarium on Jan. 28.

BY: Mickey Goodman