By Pamela Brown
Social and emotional growth. Learning new skills. Forming friendships. These are some of the amazing benefits a diverse group of children receive while enjoying outdoor adventures at Wagon Road Camp. “Our programs are designed with the belief that when children spend time with each other doing fun, interesting, and challenging activities they build close relationships with each other and see themselves as capable, happy people,” said director Vince Canziani.
Despite its location on Chappaqua’s main stretch and comprising 53 acres, the camp remains a mystery to many residents. From 1955 through 1991, it served only children with Muscular Dystrophy and other physical disabilities, so many people think it’s a charity camp for disabled children. In 1992, it opened a mainstream summer day camp for children from Chappaqua, surrounding Westchester area, and New York City. Owned and operated by The Children’s Aid Society, a New York non-profit social service agency serving children living in poverty, many people view it as a camp for troubled children. Another misconception.
The year-round comprehensive camp offers three main programs: summer day camp for children ages 6-13, Overnight Respite for developmentally-delayed children ages 7-17, and adventure team building for middle and high school students. “Our comprehensive day camp is devoted to enriching the experiences of children through exciting and fun recreational and arts activities. The program’s unique part is that the campers are a diverse group of children who come from all socio-economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds,” said Canziani. “This creates an enrichment opportunity we value and are committed to exploring with our campers. Children build important skills when they learn to accept differences and find commonalities.”
The facility features two state-of-the-art heated pools and horse corral and offers a broad spectrum of indoor and outdoor activities that build relationships, encourage teamwork, and promote healthy development, higher expectations, and broader perspectives. Activities include swimming and swim lessons, horseback riding, dance, drama, music, adventure ropes, nature exploration, gardening, cooking, sports, and group games. Special events include overnights, Summer Carnival, and guest performers. “Our activities invite campers to do new things and develop new skills and interests. We challenge them, but we’re careful not to overwhelm them,” said Canziani.
Colleen Guernier, 13, of Chappaqua has attended the camp for many years. “The cost is reasonable and the different activities offer Colleen a variety of choices. She loves swimming and they spend a lot of time in the pool,” said her mom, Mary. “She was able to participate in activities she ordinarily wouldn’t have chosen or been exposed to, such as the ropes activities. She was able to try them in a safe environment with counselors who encouraged her and friends who kept her motivated.”
Mary appreciates the many counselors who are current or former Greeley students. “We have older children and many of their friends have been Wagon Road Camp counselors in the last several years which was great for Colleen. It gave me a sense of comfort knowing some of the counselors who would look after her.”
A diverse population is also a plus. “It allowed Colleen to realize everyone is really the same when you get past where you’re from and what you have and don’t have. It’s a good experience to realize how fortunate you are and to be able to share a friendship with someone who may not look like you or have what you have yet enjoys all the same fun activities you do.”
Wagon Road Camp is located at 431 Quaker Road, Chappaqua, NY. In addition to its camp program, the facility is used as a location for conferences and special events and offers project adventure workshops for professionals and an overnight retreat program for school groups from the NYC Metropolitan area during the academic year. For more information, call 238-4761 or visit www.childrensaidsociety.org/wagon-road-camp.