Story: Diane Carroll |
“How many kids that are wheelchair users ever get to go up in a treehouse?” asks Sarah Wacaster, executive director of Camp Aldersgate. Thanks to students from the University of Arkansas School of Architecture and their professor, the answer is now hundreds. And they’re also able to shoot bows and arrows from an archery pavilion, wheel onto a stage to perform and have uninterrupted access to nearly all corners of the camp for picnicking, bird watching and just plain enjoying the natural world.
Located on 120 acres on the outskirts of Little Rock, Camp Aldersgate has been serving children with disabilities for over 60 years. As part of their continual quest to find ways for their campers to experience the outdoors, they began collaborating with the architecture program in 2002, when associate professor Laura Terry opted to teach her summer design-build program at the camp. “We had students interested in both serving the community and in getting practical building experience, and this idea seemed like a good solution for everyone involved,” she says.
That first summer, Terry and a group of eight students built an archery pavilion which functions as well for kids who can stand at the stations as it does for those in wheelchairs. Adjustable shooting stations were designed with visual appeal in mind, using bicycle parts, airplane propellers and other items to make them more interactive. “We decided that just making the pavilion accessible wasn’t enough,” says Terry. “It needed to be interesting and stimulating as well.”
That concept was reinforced the following year, when Terry and a new group of students returned and built a wheelchair-accessible treehouse, 21 feet above the ground. Successive visits resulted in a stage and amphitheater as well as a series of picnic areas, all designed to entice kids, whatever their medical or physical condition, to come out and play. “Children, regardless of their ability, are still children,” says Terry. “They need to be able to experience their surroundings and above all, to have fun.”