Build America lays a strong foundation at Camp Wonderland

The group of 17 young men set foot on the grounds of Camp Wonderland in Rocky Mount the evening of June 26.

Camp Wonderland Director Mark Sigel is certainly glad to have the group and other organizations around to take the time to not only improve the amenities, but the experience of the estimated 1,100 campers that spend time there this summer.

“With groups like Build America it is a big deal for us,” Sigel noted. “We are run 100 percent on private donations so when groups like this come in, not only do they donate their time and energy, but also give us financial backing.”

Sigel said groups like these simply do things for the camp that could not be accomplished alone.

“Our two facilities guys managing the 30 buildings and 320 acres don’t always have time to build new projects so groups like this really help the camp grow and have new things for our campers to do year after year. We love having groups like this to make the camp more beautiful for our campers and at the end of the day that is really what counts.”

The Build America program originated about 13 years ago and every summer a group spends six weeks at various summer camps for people with disabilities around the country, making the amenities and recreation more accessible. Each member raised a minimum of $4,000 for travel expenses and provides each camp with a $5,000 grant for all the materials needed to come in and do the labor. According to the program’s website, the team will log over 4,000 man hours while saving camps and communities $50,000 in labor costs and over $30,000 in material expenses. This is the third year the group has come to Camp Wonderland.

Crew Chief Ryker Belnap, a native of Idaho and architecture major at the University of Idaho, said he drew his inspiration to do this kind of work from his experience working on an all-accessible playground project during high school. Once he heard about the program, he did not hesitate to sign up.

“I thought this was awesome because this was another opportunity I could use those construction skills in a way that really gave back to the community and particularly a community I am passionate about,” Belnap stated. “So I served last year on the Build America team as a team member and I loved it so much I ended up coming back in the position of Crew Chief. I’ve always had a very strong place in my heart for people with disabilities that includes friends and family members so just being able to take that opportunity and truly serve other people has been really awesome. ”

Project Manager Derek Torres, a native of New Jersey and recent graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. Having a strong supporting cast growing up, he wants to give back and assist others as much as possible to make their lives easier in any way possible.

“My family never gave up on me and did everything they could,” Torres remarked. “I believe this philanthropy has had a huge impact on my life and now that I can support myself and do everything doctors said I couldn’t do, I want to give back as much as I can just to simply say thank you for everything they have done.”

Each day the group wakes up at 7:30 a.m. and works until noon. After lunch they get back to work until 4:30 and after dinner their evenings are spent doing a number of activities with campers. During their time at Camp Wonderland, the group has rebuilt part of a nature trail, repainted a pavilion, built new shelves for storage, painted a mural and created a variety of carnival games. Many members of the group come with little to no construction experience, but have learned quickly in the first two weeks of their trip. Belnap said the weather conditions could be a little better, but the group has not skipped a beat.

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