Camp Grace Bentley prepares for summer season

Luncheon to benefit camp April 21 in Sterling Heights

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published April 13, 2016

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METRO DETROIT — In 1928, a new summer camp was developed in Burtchville, north of Port Huron, to welcome children with physical disabilities who could enjoy summer activities at their leisure.

The camp was originally incorporated as the Michigan League for Crippled Children by a woman named Grace Bentley, who was committed to special-needs children. The camp, which took on the name Camp Grace Bentley, flourished and over the years has continued to welcome children with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, blindness, autism and those who use wheelchairs.

Camp Grace Bentley, located on 600 feet of waterfront, will open again this summer to host a group of campers with a range of physical and mental challenges. Campers ages 7-16 are invited. The ratio is one counselor for three children.

The camp is open to children from throughout Michigan, and over the years, children from all over metro Detroit have participated. Camp Director Nancy Perri-Mitchell said the camp welcomed its first out-of-state camper from North Carolina last year.

Each day is filled with all kinds of activities, including swimming, campfires, movie nights, team sports, arts and crafts, theme nights, and karaoke. The most popular activity is probably the formal dance in which everyone gets dressed up and boogies the night away.

“They can be who they are. They can be themselves,” said Perri-Mitchell, a retired Utica Community Schools teacher. “We just want them to have fun. They are so appreciative of everything you do for them.”

There will be four sessions this year: June 24-July 2, July 5-13, July 16-24 and July 27-Aug. 5. The camp is nonprofit, and camp staff members make sure everything runs smoothly. It costs $400 per student, and monetary donations and sponsorships are available. Registration is still open for interested families for 2016. The camp usually welcomes 30 campers per session, some new and some returning. Perri-Mitchell said some campers participate in two sessions per summer.

Brett Lane, of St. Clair Shores, has been attending Camp Grace Bentley for several years.

“He loves it. He looks forward to it,” his mom, Sharlene Lane, said. “I just love the place. It’s a great opportunity for (kids with) special needs. The camp counselors are so involved. They interact as much as possible. It’s a beautiful place too.”

Sharlene Lane remembers being reluctant at first when sending her son to camp.

“You don’t know how your son is going to act in a new situation,” she said. “You don’t know how they’re going to respond to him. After the first session, I was happy with the outcome of everything. You could tell he was well taken care of.”

Ryan Buckman, of Fraser, also is a longtime camper.

“He truly does love camp,” his mom, Linda Buckman, said. “I feel super, super comfortable seeing him participate. This is a chance for him to be independent on his own. Every single day they have different activities, and every single night they have something fun-filled for them.

“The counselors are just amazing. I trust the people that are there. The price is right. It’s wonderful they have donations,” she said. “It’s very adaptable for the campers.”

To help raise money for the camp, the MLCC will hold a lunch April 21 at the Century Banquet Center, 33204 Maple Lane in Sterling Heights. Doors open at noon, and lunch is served at 12:30 p.m. The benefit luncheon cost is $20, and a “share the wealth” raffle will follow the meal of city chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetable, salad and cherry pie. All proceeds will benefit Camp Grace Bentley. For reservations, call Rusty at (810) 364-4163 by April 14.

For more information on Camp Grace Bentley, visit www.campgracebentley.org or call (313) 962-8242.

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