Jessie Viola can't wait till next summer, when she returns to Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches.
The 27-year-old loves taking arts and crafts classes at the camp. And she looks forward to reuniting with her friends and camp counselors.
But the camp hasn't been the same after camp officials closed the facility's popular swimming pool three years ago.
Officials at the 75-year-old camp — which welcomes hundreds of physically, developmentally and intellectually disabled campers each summer — said leaks had weakened the pool's foundation, making it too dangerous for swimming. The camp is building a new $1.2 million pool to replace it.
"I do miss the pool," said Viola, who was born with a rare chromosomal abnormality called partial trisomy 16. The condition partly impairs her mental and physical abilities — but not her love of swimming.
“I do miss the pool and being with my friends.”
Camp officials so far have raised about $400,000 to replace the old pool with a 2,800-square-foot, in-ground pool. The project is completely funded by donations and fundraising, officials said.
The COVID-19 pandemic had slowed efforts to raise money and plan the project, they said.
The new pool — which will feature a "zero entry" design, with a slope that is safer than steps for physically disabled campers — will be ready when camp reopens next June, camp officials said.
That will be welcome news for campers, who have missed the pool the last few years — especially on sweltering summer days, said Kristin Cafiero, Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck's executive director.
“Not having it, it’s really hard for them,” said Cafiero, 32, adding the camp provided sprinklers and a slip-and-slide last year. “But it’s not the same. They don’t really get to enjoy that summer fun as much as they should.”
The camp, founded in 1948 and operated by the nonprofit Moriches Rotary Health Camp Inc., is located on a wooded, 48-acre site along Kalers Pond. Open for 10 weeks from June to September, the camp had about 263 campers last year ranging in age from 6 to 50, Cafiero said.
The camp, one of the few on Long Island that serves disabled youth, features boats and playgrounds adapted for special needs campers. But otherwise it is designed to be a typical camp, with a petting zoo, campfires and parades.
“It’s just an awesome place where they can go and be themselves and feel like a little kid and not have any obstacles,” said Jessie's mother, Eileen Viola, 59, who lives in Brookhaven Town. “When we make that turn onto Chet Swezey Road, she just lights up with joy and she just loves everything about the camp.”
Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck also offers campers' families a break from the demands of raising special needs children, said Steve Fuoco, 67, of Patchogue. Fuoco said his late sister, Beth Ann, who was born with spina bifida, a disease of the spine, attended the camp as a child and later worked there as a counselor. The family's annual golf outing has raised $2.6 million for the camp since 1969, he said.
“People should know how important it is, not just for the kid, which is the most important thing, but how important it is for the family," Fuoco said. "It’s priceless.”
About Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck
Opened: 1948 by the Rotary Club of the Moriches
Location: 2 Chet Swezey Rd., Center Moriches
History: Opened originally for children with polio, camp later began accepting children with a variety of special needs; in recent years, adult programs have been offered
Activities: Swimming, canoeing, arts and crafts, music, petting zoo, theater, basketball, playground, yoga, parades
Cost: $1,450 for sleepover and day sessions
How's it pronounced? Either PA-qua-tuck or pa-QUA-tuck are acceptable
SOURCE: Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck