Camp Friendship Held At Kiepersol Cattle

Seventeen special needs children spent the day at Camp Friendship. It's a twice-a-year camp put on by the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) in Tyler.

The camp is usually held at St. Louis School in Tyler. But for the first time ever, the ARC was invited to the cattle fields of Kiepersol Estates, a restaurant and winery in Bullard.

It was a fall wonderland for the children -- a chance to experience things many of them never had before: a hayride through the Kiepersol Cattle fields in the crisp morning air, painting their names on a hand-made cow, and decorating pumpkins.

"Mine looks like a vampire in that book called 'No David,'" Alicia Butcher, 10, said.

All of the kids have special needs and some have major medical problems, but that's not stopping them from getting their hands dirty and just having fun.

"It's just really, really fun, and I really like having fun," Butcher said.

All this fun was made possible by a team of volunteers, the employees at Kiepersol Estates, and one man. Pierre de Wet is the owner of the sprawling ranch. He has a special place in his heart for people with special needs because his sister is one of them.

"Very seldom do they get the opportunity to be on the farm and just to breathe the open air and touch the dirt and have fun," he said.

The kids aren't the only ones enjoying themselves. More than 30 AmeriCorps volunteers and a few students from UT-Tyler are also taking part in the fun.

"They see a world through a whole different vision than regular kids," Jamie Satt, an elementary education major at the university, said. "And it really teaches you to appreciate what you don't see."

"Very adventurous, never a dull moment, there's always something to do," Antwanette Collins, an AmeriCorps volunteer from the Andrews Center, said. "Very challenging though."

Some of the children need more attention than others, like Caleb, who has four volunteers to himself.

"He likes attention, so we say he likes the ladies," Collins said.

He likes to drive the tractor or at least pretend to. And she likes her camp counselor for the day.

"I love her," Kelsey Moore, 14, said. "She's my friend."

After all, that is what Camp Friendship" is all about.

Julie Tam, reporting.