Camp Aldersgate Annual Fish Fry: Serving Up Inclusion, Independence and Encouragement

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By KD REEP | Photography by SARAH ODEN | Shot on location at CAMP ALDERSGATE

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For 40 years, Camp Aldersgate has been serving up piping-hot catfish at the annual fish fry. In addition to this southern staple, there’s fun and fellowship throughout the afternoon. Nestled on 100 acres in the heart of the Capital City, Camp Aldersgate provides inclusive experiences for children and families throughout the year. Breanna McMillan and her family have enjoyed benefits of this specialty camp and are ardent ambassadors of the community it creates.

“My son, Carter, was born with an extra copy of his 21st chromosome, also known as Down syndrome,” she explains. “With that extra chromosome came all these other extras we never knew we’d have in life, for instance, the most incredible community of families who were also blessed with a child with Down Syndrome.” Breanna was introduced to Camp Aldersgate through the Arkansas Down Syndrome Association. “When I learned about the camp and how it could give Carter the independence of a weekend and summer camp that his peers have, we knew he’d attend.” She quickly realized just how transformative the camp’s programs and services are. “He loved it so much and talked about it so much, his younger brother literally begged to come every year until he was old enough to
join him.”

Breanna’s son Will is an active third grader who plays tackle football and loves riding his bike, playing with Legos, Nerf guns and Minecraft. Carter is in the sixth grade and loves all things Special Olympics. He is a fan of jumping on the trampoline, episodes of Law and Order: SVU, and according to his mom, socializing and flirting. This year, the McMillans will be celebrated as the Camp Adlersgate Fish Fry Family. “We are just so honored to be a part of this event, and as a mom of a child with special needs, I never knew if summer camp would be in the cards for us. Knowing there’s somewhere I can send him where he’s safe, loved, celebrated and encouraged is something I cannot put into words. The fact his brother can attend with him adds to the experience that they’re both doing the same things their peers are able to do.”

Camp Aldersgate offers social services to more than 1,700 individuals. Summer camps are hosted for children with specific medical conditions including muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, diabetes, cardiac conditions, arthritis, kidney conditions, asthma, cancer and bleeding disorders. In addition, Kota Camps invite participants to share this opportunity with friends or siblings. “Camp Aldersgate is a true blessing that gives children an opportunity they cannot get anywhere else,” Breanna elaborates. “Not only does it provide a place for our children with special needs, their siblings, and their friends, but it’s also a place for a parent of a child with special needs to be able to send their child worry-free.”

For more than 75 years, Camp Aldersgate has created memories as unique as the campers – empowering and honoring diversity and special needs as a beacon of hope, rather than a disability. “It’s a pillar of our community that should be celebrated and supported. It is life-changing for so many families. It’s not just a place for independence and inclusion, but it’s a place where my boys can go, and I know they’re truly loved.”

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