Camp Wonder Hands celebrates 20th birthday

Posted on 7/14/2016

Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital offers camp for children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Photo: Brad and Jena Martin and their children, Jacob, 10, Dakota, 7, Gracie, 16 months, and Jack, 1-1/2 months.

When Jena Martin finished college and was training to be a Child Life Specialist, she never dreamed that the things her mentor, Marolyn Amick, taught her would become so valuable in her personal life.

Amick was the single mother of a deaf son and had started a summer camp for deaf and hard-of-hearing children so that her 10-year-old son, Scott, would not feel so isolated and could have a summer camp experience.

Camp Wonder Hands began 20 years ago in Amick’s kitchen on Mondays, Amick’s day off. “I mainly did it for Scott so that he would be less lonely when school was out. There were no children in our neighborhood that he could play with because the children didn’t know sign language and Scott didn’t speak,” said Amick.

Amick invited teachers of deaf children and they taught reading, writing and geography. Amick taught arts and crafts and cooking. “I bought the food and let the children plan their menu and cook their lunch every Monday,” she said. “They learned math skills that way.”

The first year’s camp served seven children, who learned to swim that summer and learned many life skills. The following summer, Amick held the camp at Sesquicentennial Park. When her supervisor at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital asked Amick about her five-year goals, Amick explained that she wanted to host an annual one-week summer camp for children with hearing impairments.

Amick applied for a grant from Children’s Hospital’s Administrative Medical Committee and also raised funds creatively. She convinced car dealer Dick Smith to donate the use of five vans to transport the campers.

The Camp Wonder Hands team grew to include Emmanuel “E.T.” Taylor (camp director) and Joy Brooks (camp coordinator). By its third summer, Camp Wonder Hands moved to Camp Kinard in Batesburg-Leesville. Teachers, interpreters and Palmetto Health team members volunteered to help. One of those volunteers, Ron Amick, eventually became Marolyn’s husband. Both Marolyn’s and Ron’s children have volunteered at camp. “It’s a family affair,” said Ron Amick.

As a young Child Life Specialist in training, Jena Martin had always been interested in sign language and had always had a heart for children with special needs. She is grateful for the influence and example Marolyn Amick provided.

Today, Martin and her husband, Brad, are the parents of four adopted children. “It has been a remarkable journey,” said Martin. In the span of two years, the couple adopted four children from two sibling groups.

Sons Dakota, 7 and Jacob, 10, were fostered by the Martins before their adoption was finalized in May. The brothers had been through four previous foster homes and much transitioning in their young lives. “Dakota came to us at age 4-1/2 and was not yet potty trained,” said Martin. “Brad and I noticed that something more was going on and after testing, we found that he couldn’t hear.” There had been no previous recognition of Dakota’s hearing problem and no early intervention. “Dakota is just now catching up socially and we are thankful that camps like Camp Wonder Hands exist,” said Martin.

Dakota will be a first-time camper at Camp Wonder Hands July 17-22 and he will be able to take his big brother as part of the camp’s sibling program, which was added last summer.

In addition to Dakota and Jacob, the Martins also are the parents of their biological great-niece, Gracie, 16 months, and her baby brother, Jackson, who was born in May.

“As a mom, I feel completely comfortable and confident with those who are leading this camp and I am excited for Dakota and Jacob,” said Martin.

Sunday, Camp Wonder Hands will welcome more than 60 campers. Six of the original seven campers have served as counselors and several remain very involved. “Camp Wonder Hands has come full circle,” said Marolyn Amick.


About Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital
Palmetto Health Children's Hospital is South Carolina’s first children's hospital and has more than 150,000 children’s visits each year. It offers more than 30 subspecialties to meet the unique health care needs of children and has central South Carolina's only Children’s Emergency Center. With more than 350 professionals who work exclusively with children, Palmetto Health Children's Hospital has a team of highly skilled and trained experts unmatched by any hospital in the Midlands. Palmetto Health Children's Hospital is the place to go for children's medical care, because the best care matters.


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