An area of 120 acres of land near Farm to Market Road 2484 in Killeen enchants the lives of special needs youth at the Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for Children.
Executive Director Leslie Gilmore believes that campers have the opportunity to enjoy activities they otherwise would not be able to participate in due to their limitations.
These sports include archery, high and low ropes and horseback riding.
Even immobilized children can enter the swimming pool with the assistance of camp staff and the wheelchair ramp.
Peaceable Kingdom grants children with special needs a safe haven to forget their difference and just be kids.
Campers attend diagnosis-specific camps where they are surrounded by other children with whom they can relate.
In June, for example, children missing one or two limbs attended “Camp Out on a Limb” where they participated in activities they never dreamed of being able to do, like zip lining.
Freshman English major Cici Ramos is a volunteer at the camp, and she finds encouragement because “there is a place like this for kids with disabilities that makes them feel good about themselves”.
As part of a Welcome Week event two weeks ago, a group of UMHB students headed out to Peaceable Kingdom for the morning to serve at the retreat.
Although camps were over for the season, Crusaders worked on behind-the-scenes projects such as laundry, inventory and cleaning cabins.
Sophomore accounting and finance double major Fernando Guiterrez was on the team that cleaned cabins for the next group of campers.
He said that UMHB helped him decide to participate.
“Attending a small college in such a tight community encourages me to want to give back.”
More than 5,000 children from across Central Texas are helped annually by Peaceable Kingdom through the summer, weekend and school programs.
Children from Scott & White, Scottish Rite and Dell Children’s hospitals, as well as numerous special needs students from area schools, are brought to the retreat day-trips to participate in the Environmental Education Program. It has specific programming and curriculum, all tailored to special education needs.
The organization originated in 1984. Dubbed “Baby Charlie’s First Fishing Camp,” the program was originally named in memory of the founder’s grandson, who died at the age of 1 after being born with a heart ailment.
After the name change, the Variety Club of Texas became immensely involved. The Texas children’s charity group spearheaded a fundraising campaign for Peaceable Kingdom as well, which was vital for the retreat’s growth and ability to serve more children.
In 2011, Peaceable Kingdom became a flagship program under the Variety umbrella, Gilmore said.
Gilmore acknowledges that she and her staff work diligently to ensure that the children receive the best experience possible. She believes innovation is imperative.
PKRC is working on getting a larger, more adaptive playground and expanding the equestrian area to a covered riding area. In addition, the center is looking to expand its Environmental Education Program in hopes of reaching more special needs children.
PKRC is always looking to expand its volunteer base. Service organizations and students looking to serve in the community are encouraged to tour the retreat and get involved with a project to benefit the camp and its attendees.
Students who would like to volunteer can get involved by contacting Samantha Roberts at (254) 554-5555 for more information.