Jill's Buddy Camp
Since 2015, developmentally disabled and delayed children in Montgomery County have had an opportunity to attend Jill’s Buddy Camp: a free, therapeutic summer camp.
The Town of Christiansburg’s Parks and Recreation Department, in partnership with Montgomery County Public Schools, provides the pre-K through second grade participants with meals, enrichment activities and field trips for two weeks every summer.
Christiansburg Parks and Recreation Director Brad Epperley was inspired to bring the camp to Christiansburg after learning about the original Buddy Camp, which was started in Salem in 1984. The camp was later renamed in memory of Jill Bailey Chenet, a buddy who had volunteered at the Salem camp and who passed away in 2012.
When Epperley began planning Christiansburg’s camp, he realized that partnering with the school district would enhance the experience for campers. The unique collaboration between the two organizations allows the camp to offer more activities than either organization could on its own. Epperley said the camp wouldn’t be the same without the partnership with MCPS’s special education department, which provides staffing for the camp and monitors the campers’ instructional needs. The school district also provides transportation to and from the camp.
The camp supplies breakfast and lunch for the campers and for “buddies,” older students who volunteer at the camp. A daily itinerary includes activities and field trips that help develop reading, social and motor skills. In years past, the camp has taken campers fishing, swimming and miniature golfing. These activities can be especially exciting for campers because many have never tried them before. Campers have also toured Mill Mountain Zoo, the Christiansburg Fire Department and Virginia Tech’s athletic facilities.
The partnership also means that middle school and high school students from MCPS have become heavily involved in the program. During the two-week summer camp, about 25 students volunteer to be buddies to about 20 campers. Buddies and campers form close bonds that often carry over into the next summer’s camp session. In addition to completing a fulfilling, 40-hour service project, buddies gain valuable career insight. One buddy says that her experience volunteering has inspired her to pursue a degree in special education.
The City of Charlottesville’s All Buddy Camp, which is organized by the City of Charlottesville and the Albemarle County Parks and Recreation Department, was modeled off of Christiansburg’s camp.