Camp for special needs children faces funding shortage

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LAKESIDE, Ariz. -- Up in the cool Ponderosa Pines of Lakeside, Arizona sits Lions Camp Tatiyee, where for 54 years generations of special needs children have been able to get away during the summer and just be themselves.

The camp serves children, from the ages of 7 to 17, who suffer from physical and/or mental challenges, and who are deaf or blind.

"We don't look at them as 'oh that kid over there he has autism, or 'that kid he has cerebral palsy,' it's always 'that kid he's so sweet because he draws us pictures and he's the sweetest kid in the world,'" said Austin McKenzie, who has been a counselor at Tatiyee for three years.

The camp offers programs including swimming, fishing, drama and dance and provides a much-needed haven where children with disabilities can feel "normal," say past and present campers.

"This is a place where we can go, even just for one week, where we know we will be treated just like everyone else," said Jimmy Hyte, who is deaf and has attended the camp for many years, first as a camper and then a counselor.

The summer camp is a non-profit organization supported by donations, grants and the Lions Club of Arizona. There is no cost to the campers' families

But this summer's session could be cut short.

Fewer donations and other funding cuts have stretched resources, and now camp directors say they will have to cut a special program for deaf children if they can't raise $20,000.

Camp director Pam Swanson said more that 50 deaf children would be impacted.

Swanson is trying to raise the needed funds by this weekend, otherwise she will cancel what's known as "Deaf Week."

For more information, visit Tatiyee's website.