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Horses add to the experience at Camp Virginia Jaycee

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By John Barnhart

Some extra horses, mainly provided by Many Blessings Farm, vastly expanded campers’ opportunities for horseplay at Camp Virginia Jaycee last week.

According to Dana Zyrowski, Camp Jaycee’s director, the camp has three horses of its own. Many Blessings brought eight and Marcia Wingert brought one, along with a two-wheeled cart and a friendly Dalmatian. Zyrowski said that the extra horses meant that they were able to provide more horseback riding to more campers in that one week than they could during the entire summer.

Wingert’s cart was important. Camp Jaycee provides a camping experience for people with mental and emotional handicaps. Many are middle-aged adults and climbing on a horse’s back may be too much for them. Lauri Bach, who along with her husband, Marcus, runs Many Blessings, said that the cart is less challenging for them, but still lets them feel the horse’s motion.

There were 65 campers at Camp Jaycee that week, comprising two camps. One was for campers ages 5 to 21. The other was for folks 21 and above. The oldest camper was 58.

Along with providing an activity that the campers enjoy, Bach said that getting on horseback provided a stretching opportunity that built confidence because they did something that at first intimidated them.

The campers got a lot of support in this stretching opportunity. A volunteer led each horse and there were always a couple of staff members available to walk on each side of the horse, steadying the rider. Some, however, rode with just a volunteer leading. Each horse, of course, is gentle. Many Blessings provides therapeutic riding, so the horses are used to riders with a variety of handicaps. They have also been selected for their aptitude for therapeutic riding.

“We moved all our horses out Sunday afternoon and set up our rings,” said Bach.

Camp Jaycee workers, for their part, fed the horses and provided lunch and dinner for Bach’s volunteers.

In the evening, the volunteers left to stay at Bach’s parent’s home in Roanoke. The campers and staff stayed at the camp in cabins.

Zyrowski said that she had 40 staff members there, providing a staff member for every four campers. They come from all over the world and the camp brings them in through the international YMCA. Some come back and Zyrowski said 10 members of this year’s staff were here last year.

One of them, Artur Rakin is from Znamenka, Ukraine, about a two-hour drive from Nikolaev, a major city on the Bug River, not far from the Black Sea. Back in Ukraine, Rakin is studying hotel and restaurant management, along with economics and history at Mikhail Mikhailovich Poplovski University in Kiev.

This is his first time at Camp Jaycee, but he’s been happy with his experience and wants to come back next year. His motivation for doing it was a desire to help people with special needs.

It’s also been an opportunity to visit the area, the mountains (the area he comes from ranges from flat to rolling countryside), Virginia Beach, and Wal-Mart. He found Wal-Mart to be impressive.

“It’s big,” he commented.

Ukraine has a chain of stores called Eko Mart. They are much like a large Food Lion or Kroger’s, although there are some differences. One is that they have a tank of live fish. A customer can select one, which a clerk will net, ensuring that the fish on the dinner table that evening is fresh.

Most of Camp Jaycee’s campers are adults. Last week was the one week of the summer that they have children there, according to Zyrowski. A number of these adults live in group homes and look forward to their time at camp. Others live with their parents and this time gives their parents a respite. Some come to the camp twice in the summer and there are a few that spend the entire summer there.

“This is what they wait all year long for,” said Zyrowski. “While here, we want to do everything we can do to make sure it’s the time of their lives.”

Campers pay for their stay, but donations defray the cost. This is important as many have limited finances. The camp is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization and donations are tax deductible. Donations may be sent to Camp Virginia Jaycee, P. O. Box 648, Blue Ridge, Virginia, 24064.

Many Blessings Farm is also a 501 (c) 3 non-profit. Donations may be sent to Many Blessings Farm, 1054 Wilson Church Road, Bedford, Virginia, 24523.