Southampton Fresh Air Home's Camp for Kids With Special Needs
by monica belag forman
Pool time, a favorite daily activity at the SFAH
Camp was such an important part of my childhood and maturation. There are so many memories, stories, and friendships that have lasted a lifetime. I once saw an interview between Oprah and Ralph Lauren in which Oprah asked, “When was your defining moment that you knew you could do great things?” His response: at age 20, while he was at camp, during color wars, in which he was general. This is what camp does—it allows you to believe in yourself, to try new things, and to explore so many possibilities.
Southampton Fresh Air Home, a sleep-away camp for physically challenged children, provides these very special kids with the opportunity to participate and to be part of another family, doing things they ordinarily couldn’t do. My son, Garett, had a prenatal stroke, the cause of which was unknown. It left him totally physically dependent; he cannot walk, talk, or feed himself. Yet he is a smart, funny, and very social child known around his camp as “Mr. Giggles.” And for eight years now, he has looked forward to camp every winter.
Garett’s first time away from home was his first summer at the Fresh Air Home, in 2004. I was petrified, but he grew and became more independent, making real connections with campers and counselors. David Billingham, the Fresh Air Home’s camp director, and his team of counselors inspire these children and do so with great care, love, and spirit. They fill the days with innovative activities; the camp’s adapted facilities include two pools, tennis and basketball courts, a computer lab, an arts and crafts center, and space for archery, karaoke, sailing, golf, and, of course, that traditional camp game, color war. It’s such a wonderful environment that brings the most out of these children, all of whom embody strength, heart, and individuality.
Yomi Wrong, a former camper who attended the SFAH in the early 1980s, recently wrote, “Going to camp was the defining point in my life as a child with a disability, the moment when I chose fierce independence over fear of moving through the world on my own terms. I owe a great deal of my personal and professional success to that experience. The values I learned in the camp program helped guide my steps growing up and helped shape the woman and leader I am today.”
The SFAH paved the way for Garett to enter—and to thrive— at The Center for Discovery, a residential care community in Harris, New York. We referred to it as “winter camp,” and Garett was anxious to try it. But I am forever grateful to the Fresh Air Home and know the campers are, too. It’s so wonderful to visit the camp on a regular day and see the children playing around at the flagpole and singing in the dining room. And it’s fundraisers like the upcoming Decorators-Designers-Dealers Sale, Auction, and Cocktail Party—which offers new and gently used home furnishings, accents, and antiques, and an auction of wines and luxury items—and the family-friendly American Picnic over July Fourth weekend that helps makes the camp experience possible for boys and girls like Garett. These children are making their own lifetime memories and friendships they will take with them wherever they go.
photography by NICK HUN /PatrickMcMullan.com (foreman); mallory samson (children); david billingham (grounds)