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Hooray! Camp accessible to children with disabilities coming to Jackson County
70 acres of U.S. 129 used for project
The University of Georgia’s College of Environment and Design students will be helping with the design and engineering of Camp Hooray.

JEFFERSON — A first-of-its-kind, fully-accessible overnight camp for children and young adults with developmental disabilities will be brought to life by two universities and an organization devoted to helping those with disabilities.

A 70-acre parcel of land just off U.S. 129 in Jackson County will be transformed into Camp Hooray through a partnership between the University of Georgia’s College of Environment and Design, Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture and Extra Special People Inc.

Ross Kesterson, a member of the ESP board and parent of an ESP participant, said he is excited to see what university students come up with for the camp.

“We want Camp Hooray to be able to offer a unique experience for campers, and this is the start of the process,” Kesterson said.

He anticipates the UGA-Georgia Tech team will put the design and engineering ideas on paper and bring them to the board for input.

“Our students gain practical experience through real-world projects,” said Dan Nadenicek, UGA’s College of Environment and Design dean. “The studio environment and service-learning are unique among all teaching settings and leads to strong friendships and lifetime associations.”

“This project is important,” Nadenicek added.

For ESP, Camp Hooray is an opportunity to expand its mission. For 30 years, the organization, based in Watkinsville, has focused on enhancing the lives of children with developmental disabilities and their families by emphasizing their abilities, not disabilities.

“We then want to bring the camp to fruition as fast as we can,” said Kesterson, who points out that money drives most project timetables and Camp Hooray is no exception. The fundraising component is already in the works.

“The campers can’t wait to have their own place,” said Kesterson, who said Camp Hooray is already being used for special events and day camp opportunities.

Camp Hooray in August hosted its first public event, the second annual Tug of Love, put on by Leadership Jackson for Wellspring Camp, which previously occupied the camp property. With the support of the Strickland Family Foundation, ESP purchased the property from Wellspring Camp in December 2014.

The partnership will provide ideas for sustainable and accessible site design with innovative residential cabins, outdoor spaces and common areas around a small rural lake.

The challenge is creating a camp that can accommodate events, overnight stays and activities that include music, sports and games, art, social skill training areas, swimming, field days, talent shows, boating and archery.

“Our students and faculty are constantly breaking new ground in design. … From health care devices to musical instruments, buildings to neighborhoods, cities to mega-regions —  the College of Architecture at Georgia Tech is designing the future,” said Steve French, dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture.

Georgia Tech and UGA will devote multiple design studios to the project, and a public design process will be conducted Jan. 29-31 on-site.

Camp Hooray is poised to become a living laboratory for the students of each university. Students for years to come will have a canvas on which to develop and implement ideas that could shape not just the future of Camp Hooray but change building techniques and philosophies as they relate to accessible spaces.

Throughout the semester the students and stakeholders will meet, share ideas and critiques and weigh alternatives. Many stakeholders are volunteers, donors and parents of campers.

Additionally, an Athens-area civil engineering and landscape architecture firm, Williams and Associates, associated with ESP programs in Watkinsville, has provided its assistance to the colleges.

Organizational and institutional websites, as well as social media, will track the design process. This service-learning project is one example of each college’s outreach programs.

Both deans agree the partnership should continue after this project. A memorandum of understanding between the two schools creates the “Georgia Design Collaboration.” An annual publication, Georgia Design Matters, will create a permanent record of this project and future collaborations.

Visit or for more information. You can also find Camp Hooray and Extra Special People on Facebook.

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