Making a difference

There are more than 100 children laughing, running, jumping, playing sports, riding horses, swimming, and just having a good time at Camp Pacifica on Highway 49 near the Madera/Mariposa County Line.

And for the camp’s adult supporters, it’s an amazing experience to actually see the excitement as these young people express themselves and communicate with each other in sign language.

Camp Pacifica is the Lions Club District’s (4A1) youth camp that hosts deaf children, hearing-impaired children, their siblings, and children of deaf parents every summer.

Recently, Camp Pacifica held a ribbon cutting for an exciting new addition to the camp – a 100-by-60-foot, $52,000 sports court named after the Dee and Brian Heller family of Atwater.

The court was made possible by donations from the Heller family and other Lions Club members, with a matching grant, written by board member Diane Peterson, from the Lions Club International Foundation. Dee Heller is the current president of the Camp Pacifica board of directors.

In attendance for the Aug. 8 sports court dedication were board members Peterson of Bass Lake; Norm Clark and his wife Helen, of Dos Palos; Floyd Wilkins of Petaluma; Russ Custer of Hilmar, and Jim Loveing, and his wife Jill of Livingston.

Melitta J. Cutright, Ph.D., a Lions Club International manager, flew in from Illinois to attend the court ribbon cutting , and reminded attendees that “The basis of our organization, which consists of almost 1.4 million people, is groups like this one, with members working to find and help the needs of their communities.”

After the ribbon-cutting, an exciting basketball game was held with Lions Club members Ken Christiansen, Gary Eno, Dave McCullaugh, and Roland Alcoriza, being challenged by some of the campers. The youngsters won, of course.

Most of the labor for the sports court was provided by Lions Club members. The court is designed for basketball, tennis, and soccer.

Also new this summer is the Norm and Helen Clark Arena. Clark, one of founders of the camp, and his long-time friend Custer, took the lead in building the horseback riding arena.

The 52-acre Camp Pacifica offers campers ages seven to 16 many exciting activities they don’t usually get in one setting, including horseback riding, swimming, arts and crafts, archery, volleyball, soccer, canoeing, zip-line riding, and now basketball and tennis.

The camp is owned and operated by Lions Club International, with the primary responsibility for the camp in the hands of Lions Club District - 4A1 - which runs from Lodi in the north to Chowchilla in the south, and includes Mountain Area Lions Clubs in Oakhurst, Bass Lake, and North Fork.

The camp was established in 1978 in order to have a more permanent program in place for these children. Roland and Kimberlie Alcoriza, the camp directors, stated that prior to Camp Pacifica, District Lions Clubs were spending $30,000 to $40,000 per year to host the camp, so it made sense to purchase a camp for this purpose.

In addition to the two weeks that are used for the Lions Club camp, the facility is leased out to other non-profits that share similar missions. Throughout the summer, the camp is used by UC Davis for Camp Aggie, which is held for foster children; Camp Candle Lighters for children and families with children who have cancer; and the Stanislaus Justice Department hosts a camp every year for children and families that have been victims of domestic abuse. Various religious groups, and Boy Scouts of America also utilize the camp.

The one obvious thing about Camp Pacifica is that it was established out of pure love and caring for the children that it serves, who enthusiastically return year-after-year to reconnect with friends, and experience a week of learning and fun.

Peterson said she decided to get involved with a camp due to her love for the children.

An educator for 38 years, Peterson has always enjoyed working with special-needs children. At one time, she served as chairperson for the 4A1 District.

“I was in awe at what these children could overcome,” Peterson said. “The best part is knowing you’re making a difference in their lives.”

One of the primary goals of the camp is to promote self-confidence among the campers while giving them a chance to interact with other children.

“When the campers come to Camp Pacifica, they are with children facing the same challenges, and that helps them feel comfortable,” Peterson said. “Attending the camp is a good opportunity for children to take a break from their daily routine, and have some fun.”