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Penny Karnival unites disabled and able-bodied youth

Shriners Clown Al Surpreant, a.k.a. Poppie the Clown, creates a balloon animal for an eagerly waiting kamper at last week's Penny Karnival. Reminder Publications photo by Katelyn Gendron
By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD The sun was shining as brightly as the smiles on the faces of those attending the annual Penny Karnival sponsored by the Kamp for Kids.

Kamp for Kids is a summer camp for able-bodied and disabled people ages three to 22 sponsored by the Carson Center for Human Services, a non-profit agency that provides mental health an rehabilitation services for Western Massachusetts residents. The kamp's annual Penny Karnival invites "kampers," their families and the community for a day of fun, while also raising funds for the kamp all games and activities cost one penny.

This year's karnival included a bounce house, balloon animals from a Shriners clown, face painting and multiple games such as SpongeBob Stress Relief Sponge Toss and bottle toss.

Kamp for Kids Director Julissa Colon said the Penny Karnival is the biggest day of the summer for the kampers, adding that the day gives them the opportunity to "celebrate and share [with their families] the joys of what kamp means to them.

"This is one of the best days of the summer," Colon said with a smile.

Colon noted that those running the activities at the Penny Karnival donated their time, such as Shriners Clown Al Surprenant, a.k.a. Poppie the Clown. He said he returns to the karnival each year in order to bring smiles to the faces of all children.

While waiting in line for a balloon animal, Mite Ashley, father of 11-year-old kamper Michelle, explained that he chose to attend the karnival with his daughter for a day of fun activities and to experience her progress at the kamp firsthand.

"This is the best day of kamp ever," Janelle Bonilla, a six-year-old kamper, said while getting a butterfly painted on her face.

Kelsey Hamel, Bonilla's nature specialist explained that the Penny Karnival and the kamp allow kampers access to activities regardless of disabilities, including nature walks, swimming, arts and crafts and recreational games. She emphasized the importance of including kampers in all activities regardless of their disabilities in order to increase their social, physical and mental development.

Sarah Albitz of Agawam said she brought her playgroup of 12 children to the Penny Karnival not only as a unique activity for the kids but also to support the Kamp for Kids cause. She added that she was impressed with the level of dedication the kamp counselors had for the kampers and the karnival. She said it was clear that the kamp did not put on the karnival to make money admission is free and each activity is only one penny but for the betterment and happiness of kampers and the community.

Kamp Couselor Stephanie Brault, a first-year counselor, explained that she worked with kampers of a variety of different ages, helping them to learn and develop their performance in various games and activities.

The kamp runs four sessions of approximately 85 kampers each summer, including three two-week sessions and one one-week session.

For more information about the Carson Center for Human Services go to