When Jerry and Paula Baker’s youngest son was 9 years old they got the heartbreaking diagnosis that he had a brain tumor. Jerry Baker describes it as a lightning strike moment, in that it altered the course of all their lives in a single moment.
Five years after the diagnosis and five surgeries later, their son came out of it tumor-free. And while they were beyond grateful for the end result, they were a little saddened when they thought about some of the formative experiences their son had missed out on because of having to be in the hospital.
“He didn’t really get a chance to be a kid,” Baker said.
In that little twinge of sadness an idea was born that they could give kids going through similar medical issues a chance to experience one of the staples of childhood - summer camp.
“We assumed we’d be all about kids like ours, but it turns out that’s not much of a market,” Baker said of the initial idea for the camp.
They did, however, see that there was a need to create something special for the underserved population of adults with medical and/or developmental needs and with that, Camp Tuolumne Trails came to life.
Located in Groveland on 80 acres surrounded by the mountains and woodlands, Camp Tuolumne Trails gives people a chance to delve into the camp experience by adapting it all to fit their needs.
The Bakers believe camp is a unique experience shared in songs, games, explorations and nights around a campfire and they wanted to make sure that experience was open to everyone.
“We are in the business of overcoming adversity,” Baker said.
Camp Tuolumne Trails offers campers all the essentials of summer camp - hikes, swimming, team games, music and arts and crafts, while also having a medical program to meet the needs of the campers. Counselors come from all over the globe and undergo a rigorous training program.
Baker said the benefits of the camp are multi-fold and believes the experience the counselors gain is invaluable to their general understanding of people with special and medical needs.
“They walk away with an understanding of these challenges that they wouldn’t have gotten somewhere else,” Baker said.
Typically, Camp Tuolumne Trails offers six sessions during the summer and fills the off-season working with different school districts for outdoor education and special projects with various organizations, like the Wounded Warrior Project.
However, this is most definitely not a typical year. The Bakers and their staff have set up COVID-19 precautions and are changing the structure of the camp. Rather than just campers coming for a stay, Camp Tuolumne Trails is renting out their cabins for whole family stays.
“This summer, we have seen families rejuvenated by a weekend away outside of their homes,” Baker said. “We have had the opportunity to chase after this need and have served over 30 families with socially distanced guidelines in place. We have provided a safe, welcoming and fully accessible space for families to have time outside they have so desperately needed.”
The camp also is upgrading the internet at the site to offer people a work in the woods stay.
For more information about Camp Tuolumne Trails visithttp://www.tuolumnetrails.org or call (209) 962-7534.