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SIOUX CITY -- On a balmy summer morning in July, Maddison Medbourn, a day camp counselor at Camp High Hopes, sat on the floor of the Meadowlark Lodge, threading a blue pool noodle through a foam cylinder with 19-year-old Adrian Beeck's help.

Off to the left of them in the sprawling space, other adult campers milled about wearing Dr. Seuss hats and headgear as they prepared to do some yoga poses inspired by the popular children's book series.  

Since opening in 2012, Camp High Hopes, a local camp for children, teens and adults with disabilities, special needs and chronic illnesses, has grown to accommodate some-500 campers, who stay in cabins during the summer. But executive director Chris Liberto said a couple thousand people visit the camp throughout the year.

Liberto, who came on board in 2016, said he has seen the addition of a welcome center and new cabin during his tenure. The 90-acre camp has also added staff and a boathouse is on track to be completed in the fall.

"The closest facility that does what we do is about 4 1/2 hours away," he said. "Prior to the opening of Camp High Hopes, you had a lot of individuals from this community that either had never been to a facility like this to be able to experience therapeutic recreation or they were driving 3, 4, 5 hours away to experience something like this."

Liberto said the majority of campers come from Iowa. Sixty percent of them are 17 and younger, while the other 40 percent are 18 and older.

"We feel it's important to serve the adult population as well," he said. "It's shown in our numbers that there's a need for it and what we've learned is that once they get to a certain age, the activities really drop off for folks that have some type of disability."

Liberto said activities center around Wood Duck Lake, where campers can participate in canoeing, paddle boating, kayaking and fishing. An archery range and two climbing trees are other highlights on the property.

In winter, the majority of activities take place inside Meadowlark Lodge, but campers have done some snowshoeing and ice fishing, Liberto said.

"Beyond that we've got nature education, arts and crafts and creative dramatics. We also do an after-hours program, which features aerobic drumming," he said. "Two of my staff are therapeutic recreation certified, so they're tasked with coming up with different activities that our campers can participate in and then taking it to that adaptive level."

While Camp High Hopes staff strive to keep the atmosphere energetic and fun, Liberto said they also challenge campers to meet physical and social goals.

"We absolutely love the opportunity to help people grow," he said. "We help them with their peer development, their self-esteem, their social skills. It's not just come here and have fun, it's come here and grow in a way that you can't otherwise do outside of camp."

Campers sleep in two cabins, which house up to 40 campers and 16 staff members. Liberto said there is one camp counselor for every three campers. He said traditional camps generally have a ratio of 1 to 8.

"Thanks to the community, we've really been able to provide a one-of-a-kind place to stay," he said. "It's not your traditional cabin that I grew up with where there's bunk beds and no air conditioning and you're crammed in there. This, you'll see, is very roomy. You're dealing with folks with wheelchairs and different types of sensory issues, so we try not to make our cabins too packed."

Liberto said there is a waiting list of would-be campers who can't get in because of space and other limitations. In the long term, he envisions expanding the staff to be able to accommodate more campers and building a recreation center, where people with disabilities can play volleyball, basketball and other games during the week.

"It's where people come for adaptive sports. It's not just, 'come for camp,' it's, 'come to participate in some type of adaptive recreation,'" he said. "I wouldn't say we want to be become a gym necessarily, but as we grow, one of the buildings we're going to have in the future is a rec center."

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Health and Lifestyles reporter

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