Stepping into the spotlight: Talent show serves as highlight of Camp Able

Lance Shearer

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly gave Callie Bennett's first name as "Ellie." 

The crowd at the Camp Able talent show was ready to rock. So were the performers, and the 90-minute presentation on Saturday evening featured an amazing variety of talents on display.

Forest works the crowd with his vocals. Camp Able completed a week of activities Saturday evening with a talent show at St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

The talent show is the culmination of the superhero-themed Camp Able, a week-long summer camp for people with disabilities. Campers have a variety of conditions, including Down syndrome, spinal bifida, Cruzon syndrome, and “all over the spectrum” of autism, said camp coordinator Callie Bennett.

Campers participated in a whirlwind of activities throughout the week, everything from getting out in a boat courtesy of the Marco Island Police and Fire-Rescue Departments, to going to the movies, doing arts and crafts, kayaking or enjoying a spa day at Rick’s Island Salon.

With 54 campers and about 125 staff and volunteers, giving one-on-one attention to the campers is no problem, allowing the counselors to customize the camp experience for each individual.

“I don’t run one Camp Able; I run 54,” Kyle Bennett said.

"Groupies" rush the stage for a vocal performance. Camp Able completed a week of activities Saturday evening with a talent show at St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

Bennett is the pastor of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, where the camp was held, and the founder of Camp Able, which has spread to multiple locations since he originated it. Camp coordinator Callie Bennett is his daughter, and working with her dad on the camp has helped put her life on its path.

Callie is completing her master’s degree in speech pathology at Nova Southeastern University, and is aiming for a career working with the developmentally disabled, or those with 'diversabilities,' a term that embodies what the camp's primary philosophy.

Camp Able focuses on what individuals can do, not what they can’t, and works hard to provide rich experiences and fulfilling outcomes for all the campers; this approach was on full display at the Talent Show.

A few of the campers were too shy to get up in front of a standing-room-only, cheering and clapping crowd, so their talents were videotaped and projected on the screen, with the stars encouraged to take a bow and receive the acknowledgement of the audience. Other talents, such as Cyle’s turn with a lawnmower, worked better in that medium.

Spinal bifida didn't stop Brooksanne from dancing with the other campers. Camp Able completed a week of activities Saturday evening with a talent show at St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

Another video featured prankster Kaylee, who put soy sauce into cola containers, and toothpaste into Oreos, with her unsuspecting victims mugging appropriately for the camera. One volunteer, Jordan Sacks, whose day job is a prosecutor in Miami, not only tasted some vile concoctions, but got a pie in the face, and took it all in stride.

Most of the campers were more than ready for their moment of fame, singing, dancing, or in one case, doing magic tricks, then basking in the unrestrained outpouring of love and acceptance that came from their fellow campers and the audience comprised of family members, volunteers and supporters.

Brooksanne has spinal bifida, but that didn’t keep her from dancing in a custom-built framework illuminated by multi-colored rope lighting. She also hopped and bopped during the campers’ dance earlier in the week, and in her platform, she could be up at the same level as her peers.

Many of the campers had volunteers on stage helping with their performances; a camper named Bill and a volunteer named Carrie performed a duet of “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer,” and several of the guys singing had “groupies” rushing the stage to express their enthusiasm.

Bennett described Camp Able as “kind of a magical place.” Here, he said, “all are given the opportunity to live an authentic life in a playground without judgment, a community of abundant compassion.”