Revised Budget Could Shut Down Camps For Special Needs

There are concerns over possible budget cuts for camps that serve those with special needs.

Governor Dannel Malloy’s revised state budget proposal released last week, would cut funding used to operate Camp Harkness and Camp Quinebaug, according to the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

Under the governor’s proposal, the state is expected to save about $560,000 in each of the next two fiscal years.

Not only could that close operations at Camp Quinebaug in Killingly and Camp Harkness in Waterford, but also the camp's beach.

Jessica Heeran, of Southington, is devastated by the thought of Camp Harkness and the beach closing because it is a place her son, 11-year old-Joey, loves. He has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.

"It’s a little hidden gem in the special needs community here in Connecticut," Heeran said. "It's a place where we can go and not get the stares from people wondering what’s wrong with our children. We can all go there and be the same. We’re with other families who know how we feel."

The beach is at risk of closing because there wouldn’t be enough funding to staff a lifeguard under Malloy’s recently revised budget plan.

It makes Heeran wonder where her family would spend their summer.

"If he goes to a regular beach area, he’s too over stimulated, there’s too many people, it’s too loud," Heeran said.

The property has an estimated 35,000 people visit each year, which includes its campers that attend Camp Harkness, a camp for people with special needs.

High Hopes Therapeutic Riding in Old Lyme comes to Camp Harkness every summer so campers can ride the horses and not being able to do this any longer is upsetting for executive director Kitty Stalsburg.

"The actual residents that integrate with therapeutic riding are several hundred people for whom this would no longer be an opportunity," Stalsburg said. 

DDS runs both Camp Harkness and Camp Quinebaug in Killingly, which is also a camp for those with special needs that would close under the governor’s proposal.

Katie Rock-Burns chief of staff for DDS Commissioner Jordan Scheff said the department is working on logistics to try and keep the camps open for at least this summer.

"DDS will be honoring our commitment to the community and families to operate both Camp Harkness and Camp Quinebaug for Summer 2017. We are currently working to recruit, hire, and train staff to operate these camps for the summer, including direct support staff, lifeguards, and others. As we await the final budget for the next biennium, we continue to explore the full impact of the proposed budget option for future years. We will develop a plan based on the final budget," DDS Commissioner Jordan Scheff said. 

DDS still plans on going forward with the hiring process for the employees needed to operate both camps.

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