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Camp Acacia in Gentry aims to increase quality of life

by DANIEL BEREZNICKI Special to NWA Democrat-Gazette | July 11, 2022 at 7:34 a.m.
Special to the Eagle Observer/BROOK BEREZNICKI The Camp Acacia entrance reflects its African theme by featuring the Camp's name written on acacia wood with a silhouette decor of elephants in the Serengeti.

GENTRY -- Camp Acacia, located at 9345 WPA road in Gentry, is a nonprofit organization that caters to individuals with special needs by offering activities to help increase their quality of life.

Current camps run through July 29. These up-building activities include swimming, hiking, biking, arts and crafts, and sports games.

Executive director Rachel Smith and her team come together to ensure every visitor has an enjoyable and life-enriching experience, she said.

Camp Acacia's overall theme is based on famous African landmarks and national parks such as Camp Kilimanjaro and Camp Serengeti. The thought behind the name Camp Acacia is based on African culture.

"In certain religious traditions that arose out of Africa, promises were marked with acacia wood," said Cherish Folck, director of camper experience and marketing for the camp. "We're making a promise to make a more equitable world for our campers, so we marked it with acacia wood."

Camp Acacia aims to "empower people with disabilities with the skills needed to engage with their community and life through recreation."

The weeklong residential camps have activities with living arrangements are taken care of.

The camps' different activities aim to help campers develop certain skills that will be beneficial for the future. Camp Acacia caters to campers of all ages, according to the organization. Some range from ages 6 to 12, while others cater to ages 23 and older. This ensures all campers have a unique experience with others in their age group.

One camp might help a camper develop interests and independence, while another might focus on positive reinforcements to developing social and daily living skills, camp officials say.

All camps will have the same activities and "everything is fully accessible to everyone," according to the organization.

Certain activities target different necessary skill sets. For example, the "Lego Lounge" creates opportunities for campers to expand their creativity while developing their fine motor skills, which will help them with tasks such as buttoning shirts and handwriting, camp officials said.

Camp Acacias' sensory room houses different toys and textures that stimulate the mind while having a calming effect. Some of these devices have soft or hard surfaces that change color with different pressures. Because of this, campers can have a relaxing setting without overwhelming their senses.

The splash park and swimming pool are favorite spots for campers, Folck said.

"The pool is a hit. We swim every day as a whole camp," she said. "It's like a little pool party every day."

With a pool ramp and pool slide, all campers can have a fun environment in which to swim and be themselves while socializing with other campers.

The outside rock wall is equipped with rope netting, and pegs give campers the experience of climbing while having support from the counselors below. This way, they can have confidence in themselves and build trust in others, camp officials said.

Above all, safety is Camp Acacia's top priority, according to camp officials. Each camp has a counselor that supervises and assists all campers. Depending on the setting, the ratio could be three campers to one counselor or one-on-one supervision. Activities at the rock wall will have multiple counselors with each camper, with harnesses, to ensure everyone stays safe.

While recreation is a very important part of the experience, the ultimate goal of Camp Acacia is to enrich the lives of its visitors and campers, Smith said.

"Very few people with disabilities are able to have any form of employment," she said. "Almost all of our services are geared to that."

Smith said she believes that surrounding campers with recreation and positive reinforcements will give them the confidence to branch out and live happy lives, whether they want to work, develop living skills or just have fun doing something new.

"Our mission is just [that] we think everybody should get to have the chance at a high-quality life," she said.

After summer camp -- starting on Sept. 17 and running through April 22, 2023 -- Camp Acacia will have Acacia Play. This will feature activities every Saturday with unique themes such as Disney, Clue! and Earth Day.

Currently, Camp Acacia is accepting volunteers who can come and get involved.

"You just reach out to us and let us know," said Folck. "And we just set up a time that the visitor wants to come out."

To volunteer at Camp Acacia, call 479-270-7484 or contact the camp via Facebook @campacacia or Instagram @campacacianwa.

  photo  Special to the Eagle Observer/BROOK BEREZNICKI The rock wall features rope netting and pegs so campers can get the full experience of climbing while in a safe environment.
  photo  Special to the Eagle Observer/BROOK BEREZNICKI The arts and crafts table features multiple projects, including painting and popsicle houses.
  photo  Special to the Eagle Observer/BROOK BEREZNICKI Emmy's Place playground is inviting for young campers at Camp Acacia.
  photo  Special to the Eagle Observer/BROOK BEREZNICKI Rachel Smith (left) and Cherish Folck (right) display the Camp Acacia “welcome” sign for visitors.

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