At Camp Ylitiba, kids are kids -- no matter what

Posted at 4:30 AM, Jun 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-07 07:34:27-04

BURLINGTON, Ky. -- Fourteen-year-old Kelly Knodel doesn't think of herself or her friends at Camp Ytiliba as children with disabilities.

"You would say they're disabilities," said Knodel, who was born without thumbs. "But in a way, it's made them stronger."

Although they're all patients at Shriners Hospital, living with physical differences such as cleft palates and burn scars, the weeklong camp gives Knodel and her friends the chance to spend time with children just like themselves -- and focus on nothing but being kids.

"Everybody fits in and has a place," she said. "We make memories of a lifetime here."

The camp has been hosting children like Knodel for nearly three decades, giving them opportunities to bond with their peers, be mentored by former campers and hang out with some of Cincinnati's biggest celebrities. This year, the campers learned moves from University of Cincinnati cheerleaders and played soccer with professionals from FC Cincinnati.

Donna McCartney, a Shriners Hospital social worker who's been a counselor at Camp Ytiliba for four years, said mentoring the campers is a heartwarming experience every time.

"There's nothing as special as seeing kids who are in the intensive care unit outside the hospital, doing things at some point they thought they'd never do," McCartney said.

For local children who don't live with the health needs and differences that the campers at Ytiliba share, the Cincinnati Recreation Center offers a number of summer day camps that provide the same opportunities for learning, mentoring and fun while school isn't in session.

"We do it to keep the kids in the city safe and off the street," said CRC regional supervisor Steve Gerth.

If you're interested in enrolling your child in one of these camps, you can learn more online.