Rockwall YMCA celebrates Angel Campers with annual end-of-summer bash

ROCKWALL, TX (Aug. 8, 2022) JER Chilton YMCA staff and campers celebrated another successful season of Angel Camp at their annual End of Summer Party on July 29. This summer marked the 14thnd year of Angel Camp. Angel Camp provides an opportunity for children with special needs to enjoy traditional day camp activities like horseback riding, canoeing, sailing, swimming, archery, and local field trips.

Sailing aboard Seawolf on Lake Ray Hubbard. Sailing shots by JR, Blue Ribbon News.
At the helm! Photo by JR, Blue Ribbon News.
Every year Sail with Scott welcomes Angel Campers to board Seawolf and experience sailing. Photo by JR, Blue Ribbon News.
Angel Campers enjoyed a visit from the Creature Teacher as part of the summer program. Photo by JR, Blue Ribbon News.
Angel Campers were able to interact with a variety of animals you don’t see every day! Photo by JR, Blue Ribbon News.

Friday’s celebration began with a blessing of the food and dinner catered by Chiloso. Afterwards, children and parents gathered for the presentation of checks from some of Angel Camp’s valued sponsors. Dan Keils, Managing Partner of Dodie’s Cajun Diner in Rockwall, posed with campers and YMCA staff as he presented a check for $10,000 on behalf of himself, and co-owners Gabe Nicolella and Mike McRae. An additional check for $10,000 was presented by Mark Andrews of KE Andrews and Homebank Texas.

Shout-out to Chiloso for the delicious food during the end-of-summer party under the big top at the YMCA. Photo by Nijee Cooper, Blue Ribbon News.

“This year we had several donors increase their support or were first time donors,” said Harold Young, Executive Director of the JER Chilton YMCA at Rockwall. “Donors like AMICA, Dodie’s Cajun, Farmers Electric Coop, KE Andrews and HomeBank really stepped in to provide funding. None of the campers pay one dime to attend this camp; it’s totally free for all campers and parents.”

KE Andrews and HomeBank Texas gave generously to Angel Camp during the end of summer celebration. Photo by Nijee Cooper, Blue Ribbon News.
Dodie’s at The Harbor in Rockwall presented a $10,000 donation to the YMCA Angel Camp program. The restaurant donates funds from its annual Crawfish Fest each year. Photo by Nijee Cooper, Blue Ribbon News.

For the past ten years, Dodie’s has hosted their annual Crawfish Fest in April. The popular Rockwall event kicks off Crawfish season at Dodies’ with 100% of proceeds going to support Angel Camp.

Dan Keils, Managing Partner of Dodie’s at The Harbor in Rockwall, has enjoyed getting to know each of the Angel Campers. Photo by Nijee Cooper, Blue Ribbon News.

“The YMCA is great organization, and Angel Camp is by far one of the Y’s most impactful programs – for the kids, and for me personally,” said Keils. “Throughout the years that Dodie’s Crawfish Fest has benefited Angel Camp, I’ve really gotten to know the kids. That’s not only been rewarding, but it helps with planning the event, too. We start preparing in December and Crawfish Fest doesn’t take place until April – so it’s a big deal. When you hear the kids share their stories of Angel Camp, it makes all the preparations worthwhile.”

Keils added, “Last year the event drew a record crowd, allowing us to give back our largest donation ever to Angel Camp. Hopefully we can top that in 2023!”

Canoeing is always an exciting time for Angel Campers! Submitted photo.
Just horsing around! Submitted photo.

Dinner was followed by a heartwarming awards ceremony. Proud parents, friends and relatives looked on as each camper was awarded a certificate as unique as themselves with categories like “Biggest Smile,” “Best Dressed,” and “Most Creative Lunch.”

Angel Campers were recognized with special awards. Photo by Nijee Cooper, Blue Ribbon News.
The circus-themed end-of-summer celebration gave Angel Campers a chance to have fun, dance, and get photos under the big top. Photo by Nijee Cooper, Blue Ribbon News.

“The Angel Camp is so beneficial to families with kids with special needs because it gives the children an opportunity to explore new friendships, new activities and new surroundings while learning about one other,” said Sarah Joanis of Forney. Joanis’s son Wesson, 6, is hearing impaired and faces sensory and behavioral challenges. This summer was his very first time at Angel Camp.

Joanis continued, “Angel Camp gave him the opportunity to be around children with an even broader spectrum of challenges who really helped him understand that he’s not alone.”

Sarah Joanis of Forney hugs her boys during the Angel Camp End Of Summer celebration. This was six-year-old Wesson’s (right) first summer at Angel Camp. He won the award for Best Communicator. Photo by Amy Busch, Blue Ribbon News.

Joanis connected with Angel Camp through a simple Google Search, and enrolled Wesson after completing the application and an initial interview. “It sounds a little random, but it was a perfect fit for us.” she said, “He seems to have made friends, they did crafts and swam almost every day.” Wesson won the award for “Best Communicator” on Friday night.

After the awards ceremony, campers continued to bond with their counselors and fellow campers as they enjoyed games, cotton candy, and lots of dancing.

The End of Summer bash also celebrated retiring Angel Camp Director Melissa Cotner, who was gracious enough to receive a friendly pie in the face. Her leadership over the years has contributed to the success of the Angel Camp program. Photo by Amy Busch, Blue Ribbon News.
Melissa Cotner, Angel Camp Director, received a plaque honoring her contributions to the program. Photo by Nijee Cooper, Blue Ribbon News.

“I’m most proud of our Angel Camp counselors,” said Stacie Renfro, Assistant Executive Director, “They build special relationships with each other, our campers, and their families. We had such a great summer because we had a great team! I can’t thank them enough!”

Interested parents can contact Stacie Renfro, or, or 972-772-9622 for more info on how to enroll in next year’s Angel Camp.

By Amy Busch, Blue Ribbon News. Photos by Amy Busch, JR, and Nijee Cooper, Blue Ribbon News. 

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