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Special-needs camp may close due to budget cuts
Older children's camp will begin July 25 if facility remains open
Joe Bryant get a hand from Sonia Alcantar Thursday morning as he takes an at bat during a baseball game inside the Mulberry Creek Community Center. Bryant joined others in the annual Elsie Conde Camp, which provides special-needs children the opportunity to play sports in a safe atmosphere, free of charge.

Elsie Conde Camp

When: July 25-29

Who: Special-needs children ages 11 to 16. To request an application, email Claire Maddox at with "Elsie Conde Camp" in the subject line.


For three summers, the Elsie Conde Camp has provided special-needs children the opportunity to play team sports in a safe atmosphere, free of charge.

But in July, if the Mulberry Creek Community Center is closed as a result of budget cuts to Hall County Parks & Leisure Services, the camp might end early this year.

"We've been prayerful that this facility will remain open," said Maria Conde, secretary and legal liaison to Cross Training Sports Camps.

"There's not a whole lot of resources for special needs families over the summer."

Cross Training runs two sessions of the Elsie Conde Camp, one for children ages 6 to 10 and one for ages 11 to 16.

The younger children's camp concludes tonight, and the older children's camp will begin July 25 if the facility is not shut down.

"It is absolutely wonderful to watch not only my child but others who don't get to play outside much or go to camp," said Robin Bryant, a camp mother and volunteer.

Her son, 11-year-old Joe, has attended Elsie Conde Camp since it began in summer 2009.

"He loves to play baseball in the gym. Although he's in a wheelchair, the volunteers push him around the bases," Bryant said.

"He looks forward to it. It's so cute — he wakes up at 5:30 ready to go to camp."

Elsie Conde campers participate in individual sports with their assigned "buddies," group sports with other campers and devotions.

The camp began as a way to honor Conde's daughter, Elsie, who died when 2 months old.

"Elsie was born in 2008 with a congenital heart defect," Conde said. "Obviously Elsie, with her heart condition, would have been a special needs child. This was an opportunity to allow Elsie to be commemorated."

When Elsie died, Conde said she and her husband requested donations be made to Cross Training in lieu of flowers, but there were no immediate plans as to how the money would be spent.

Conde's mother, Claire Maddox is the founder and executive director of Cross Training. She came up with the idea for the special-needs camp.

"It's something you learn from these kids, the way they interact and their smiles. It's different from the other Cross Training camps," said Ansley Dobbs, a 2011 West Hall High School graduate and the Cross Training summer intern.

Marci Summer, the facility manager for Mulberry Creek Community Center, said working with the Elsie Conde Camp was a great partnership.

She hopes the facility will be able to remain open for the July camp.

"I imagine I'll try to work with some other organization to find another location, but I'm not sure," Summer said.

Bryant's concern for the future of the camp lies in the summer heat.

"A lot of children who have special needs don't regulate body temperature well," she said. "If they were doing somewhere outside, (Joe) wouldn't be able to go because he couldn't be outside."

For the meantime, however, Joe has nothing to worry about.

"We're limited to options that aren't county-related, but we won't close the camp until a final decision is made and there is no alternative," Conde said.

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