After working together at a summer camp for those with developmental disabilities, Paul and Jessica Freeman got an idea.
And by 2001, that idea turned into Camp Caglewood, a low-cost weekend camp for those with disabilities.
“We realized the overwhelming need for support to these families and decided that we would dedicate our lives to helping them,” Paul said. “We both felt that it was our calling to be in service to others.”
Together, the couple conceived the Flowery Branch-based camp that offers weekend programs all year long.
“As we spoke to the parents of the campers at the summer camp where we worked, it became apparent that the weekends were a time the parents desperately needed a break,” Jessica said. “So to give them a longer break, we designed our program around the weekends, so that parents can have a couple of days where they can just tend to themselves.
“When you are a primary caregiver for someone with special needs, it is a 24/7 job and the stress can really build up over time.”
Ten times a year, the camp’s staff of volunteers takes a group of about 10 campers to various camping sites around the Southeast.
So far, trips have included visits to places like Cumberland Island, Okefenokee Swamp and Tallulah Gorge.
“On most trips we sleep in tents and cook our own meals over an open fire,” Jessica said. “So a lot of the activities revolve around survival in the wilderness — like hiking, pitching the tent, building the fire and preparing food.
“Much of what we do is done in a subtle way to improve fine and gross motor skills, social skills and build other valuable life skills that are needed for an individual to live on their own.”
Caglewood administrators have been busy raising funds to help subsidize the cost of the trips — which is about $350 to $400 per camper. Families are asked to pay $200, but about half of the campers have been able to participate for free.
“It has been a primary goal of ours not to let campers’ financial problems keep them from going to camp, and so far we have not had to turn anyone away,” Jessica said.
With more and more families asking for camp scholarships and with more and more of Caglewood’s past donors having to reduce their levels of giving, the Freemans say they are nearing a critical point in the camp’s future.
After being denied repeatedly for grants, camp administrators have come up with a new plan for creating a more secure financial future for Caglewood.
“Our long-term goals have always been to establish our own permanent facility where we can serve more campers and serve those with more severe disabilities. However, the search for land and fundraising to buy it have been put on hold,” Paul said.
“Our new goal is to create an endowment that can fund ‘camperships’ for campers who can not afford to go to camp. If we can find 850 people in our community that are willing to give up a dinner at a restaurant or movies for two each month for a year, then we could raise well over $250,000.”