Texas Elks Camp — Making a difference in the lives of special children


Some men see things as they are and ask “Why?”

I dream things that never were and ask “why not?”

That famous quote is the direction Texas Elks Children’s Services Executive Director Sandi Kennedy is taking her organization—to places never dreamed of before.

“I want to try to be more than we have ever been,” Kennedy said on Monday while touring the summer camp facility in Ottine. “We have to get out there and get our message to everyone that we can do better, we can do more, and we have to add more layers of love to make this camp a better experience in the lives of all those special needs kiddos who come here.”

Kennedy took over as Executive Director in November 2017, and in her short time she has tried to strengthen her budget, improve training for the staff and incoming summer counselors, and take the message of the wonderful asset that is the Texas Elks Camp for kids with special needs on the road so that more of their lives may be enriched at the camp.

“We have to try harder and we have to do more,” Kennedy said. “But first we have to understand more about their needs and provide better and more essential care in a less stressful environment. Those are just a few of my goals for the Texas Elks Summer Camp.”

For those who have never been to the headquarters of the camp in Ottine, it was originally built in 1946 as the Texas Elks facility provided polio victims with a hospital giving the best possible care for kids crippled with polio. With the advent of the Salk vaccine in 1955, the focus of the facility changed from polio to giving more attention to children with special needs. The polio hospital was closed in 1976, and the Elks turned to the early kids who came to the camp to have their learning disabilities diagnosed and special learning plans were implemented. This made a tremendous difference in those children’s lives, but funding problems forced the camp to close its diagnostic services in 1997.

In 1987, however, the Elks began a summer camp program for kids with special needs. The first camp in ’87 was a four-week program that took place in July and hosted about 24 special needs children each week, making a total of 96 children who were positively impacted.

Today, the program is now six weeks long, 46 children can attend each weekly session, meaning almost 275 special needs kids are helped. The camp provides a positive difference in the lives of the children who pass through, especially in areas dealing with overall attitude, self-esteem and socialization.

And the best part: There is no cost to attend this camp in Gonzales county! Grants are available to help pay for the weekly expenses, and fundraisers are held every year across Texas to provide the revenue necessary to enrich these special children’s lives. Children with A.D.D., autism, Down’s Syndrome, hearing problems, vision problems—they can all attend the camp and get financial help to do so.

Children are accepted between the ages of 7-15, and an occasional 16-year old is admitted if they have never had the opportunity to attend the camp.

“We work with kids to help them be more self-sufficient, but also let them play outside and enjoy friendly competition,” Kennedy said. “We take them on road-trips, and this year the children from each weekly program will go to Sea World, Splash Way, the San Antonio Aquarium, a petting zoo in Lockhart—all under the guidance of caring and loving counselors.

“It’s amazing to see the improvement and gains these kiddos make, and I encourage anyone to come out and volunteer, make a donation, bring your special needs child out, and see what a difference we can make in their lives.”

Interested people can contact Sandi Kennedy at 830-875-2425.