Camp Able rocks out: A week of fun in a new venue for those with diverse abilities

Lance Shearer

Camp Able returned to Marco Island last week, with a new location and a new format. The camp, which provides a week of fun, activities and camaraderie for those with diverse abilities, set up for the first time at Wesley United Methodist Church (WUMC), and for the first time, was a day camp, rather than a sleepover arrangement.

Last year, the camp was held virtually due to pandemic restrictions, and for seven years before that, it took place at St. Mark Episcopal Church. Former St. Mark’s pastor Kyle Bennett was the founder of Camp Able, which has now spread to additional locations in Florida and Mississippi, a total of four different states, and Camp Director Callie Benvenutti is the daughter of Kyle and Dody Bennett, who were there to kick off the festivities.

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Rev. Dr. William “Bill” Fisackerly IV, pastor of WUMC Marco, was also out front greeting arriving campers on July 13 as they arrived for the first time. Like most of the staffers, he was decked out in rock star attire. But he really does play the guitar, and the “axe” he held was real, while a number of counselors and some of the campers sported inflatable faux guitars.

Working off the theme “Camp Able Rocks!” the attire was a mixture of hard rock t-shirts and Flintstones gear. Bands featured included AC/DC, Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, Kiss and Led Zeppelin – the harder the rock, the better. Additional costumes included glitter queens and a “Guitar Hero” gator. One counselor straddled both ends of the “rock” theme with an animal-tooth necklace and a shirt touting the “Rolling Flintstones.”

“It’s great to have the kids and families here,” said Fisackerly. “It’s a great way to let people know they are loved.” He has been at the Marco Methodist church for three years, he said, and came from a church in Tampa that had a special needs ministry. Fisackerly said he intended to incorporate the campers’ experiences into Sunday’s church service.

“I’m looking forward to Sunday. I want my congregation to hear what it meant to the campers to be loved for who you are.”

While they are no longer hosting the camp, St. Mark Episcopal did provide “pizza and love” for one meal, said Camp Able location director Joshua Baudin. They joined other island churches in providing meals for the campers and staff, including New Life, United Church of Marco, and Marco Lutheran, who brought chicken and waffles, along with over 20 volunteers to help dish it out. Among many others, additional help was provided by Sami’s Pizza and the Marco Patriots group.

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All week long, the approximately 30 campers and 70 volunteer staffers participated in a whirlwind of activities. They watched a screening of “Boss Baby” at Marco Movies, went kayaking and paddle boarding at Isles of Capri, swimming and scuba diving, bike riding, and enjoyed a beach day. Campers boarded boats for shelling excursions, played miniature golf at Marco Golf & Garden, and luxuriated with spa services.

Activities back at camp included crafts, a luau, carnival, a dance and a talent show. This gave campers to get in touch with their inner rock star, as a camper named Mitch showed, rocking out on guitar to “Johnny B. Goode.” Signs at camp promised a “rock”-themed battle of the bands, featuring the aforementioned Rolling Flintstones and the Bedrock Chili Peppers. 

It’s fair to say that like everything at Camp Able, there would be no losers, only winners.