Ascension welcomes Camp Shriver

Kyle Riviere
Volunteers from both St. Amant and Dutchtown High Schools helped out for the Camp Shriver event. Photo by Kyle Riviere.

Ascension parish has always been chocked-full of great athletes. From Donaldsonville to Gonzales, these athletes come in all ages, genders, races, shapes and sizes.

Last week, it was the parish's special-needs athletes that had their time to shine. For three straight days, they were able to come together and enjoy the rewards of multiple sports as Camp Shriver made its first ever stop in Ascension.

Camp Shriver is an inclusive interactive sports camp supported by Special Olympics.

"It was established after Hurricane Katrina to gather the athletes. So many athletes from Special Olympics had been displaced," camp organizer Lisa Westerfield said. "Camp Shriver came down the first year and established camp for Special Olympics Louisiana. So, we've been part of that for so many years, we wanted to establish that for our athletes here in Ascension parish."

The event had been enjoyed in Baton Rouge for the past nine years but last week, it was finally able to branch out to Ascension as St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Prairieville hosted the three-day camp.

It's a place for people with intellectual disabilities to learn new sports skills and improve individual sport performances, participate in individual and team sports, build friendships and have fun with partners.

Along with organizing the parish's Camp Shriver event, Westerfield is a parent, volunteer and coach for Special Olympics.

"I'm working with the recreation department independently to be able to provide good outreach recreation for people with disabilities," Westerfield said. "We have so many volunteers in the parish that want to give service, and this is just an area of need."

She was blown away by the support she received by fellow volunteers. Both Dutchtown and St. Amant High Schools supplied students, athletes and coaches to help out during the three days.

"Allied Health came from Dutchtown, and they came with about 30 volunteers over the past three days," Westerfield said. "St. Amant's baseball team came out with 25 volunteers over the three days, and they offered us a coach each day, so that was awesome."

The St. Amant coaches, along with the student volunteers, helped teach campers the fundamentals of multiple sports that included kickball, cabbage ball, soccer and volleyball. After learning the basics in small groups, they were able to join together and compete.

"This creates awareness for our partners and our volunteers about what it's like to be someone with special needs, but it's also very inclusive for our campers that do have special needs," Westerfield said. "To be able to engage with each other in this beautiful weather is great."

Last week's inaugural Camp Shriver event began on Monday and concluded the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. That day ended with an awards ceremony for the participants.

Westerfield was extremely pleased, and she said that the camp should definitely be back next year.

She's hoping that they can get next year's event at Dutchtown High. Either way, she believes events like Camp Shriver are so rewarding to the community.

"It's always people first," Westerfield said. "We would just like to engage in opportunities throughout our parish and make things accessible to those who might not have a voice but have access to things in the parish. I just like to help them use their voice."