Sitting Down With Camp Imua
The Friendly Force Behind Maui’s Paddle Imua SUP Race
Since 1947, Imua Family Services has been working with children with special needs and living out their mission of "empowering families and their children to reach their full potential." Forty years ago, the Maui-based non-profit added their popular summer program, Camp Imua, a week-long summer camp for volunteers and children with special abilities. These days, the operation is supported largely by fundraising efforts at Bluesmith’s Paddle Imua, one of Maui's most prestigious downwind paddle races held annually at the Maliko Run.
We got the chance to sit down with executive director, Dean Wong, and hear about the fun activities the camp offers, the amazing volunteers that are the backbone of the organization and the organization's annual fundraising race, Paddle Imua.
SUP: What is Camp Imua all about?
Dean Wong: The camp provides a week of solid respite for the families and caregivers of special needs children. Being the caregiver or parent of a child with special needs is a 365 days a year, 24/7 job. You don't have the luxury of leaving your child with a sitter or on his or her own. Many of the children who come to camp don't get to experience sleepovers or nights away from home, so camp provides huge growth and independence opportunities for them.
Camp Imua is not about therapy. It's meant to feel like a camp that any typical child would attend. It's full of activities like campfires, arts and crafts, surfing, kayaking, canoeing, helicopter rides, horseback riding, dance nights and a talent show. The idea is to structure the camp so that every child, no matter their ability level, is able to participate in these activities.
Who are your volunteers?
Our volunteers are mostly high school students or returning college students (this is uniquely important because children want to hang with peers, not a bunch of adults). These students are grouped into care teams of two or three per team and are given leadership and skills training before being assigned campers. They are responsible to care for a child 24/7 while at camp, with the support of our staff and nurses. What starts out as a camper and caregiver team soon turns into a group of friends who care for each other.
What has been your most rewarding experience working with Camp Imua?
Seeing the relationships develop. In a typical high school setting, some of these kids would never have paid attention to the children in special needs classrooms. But after a young person experiences Camp Imua, they will never dismiss a person with special needs again. In fact, they will find themselves going the extra mile to include them - as it should be.
What has been the overall reaction from your campers?
The campers look forward to the experience all year and can't wait to come to camp again. The last day of Camp Imua is filled with tears of joy and sadness that the experience has come to a close. It's a beautiful thing.
How could someone get involved?
Sign up to volunteer at Camp Imua; that's the best way to learn what we're about first-hand. Or be a paddler or a sponsor at Bluesmiths Paddle Imua, to ensure camp always happens.
How are you funded?
Bluesmiths Paddle Imua has become our biggest success for fundraising. The ocean sports enthusiasts who come each year to paddle out for children with special needs has become our greatest support system, as well as the many sponsors who get involved. We also apply annually to various family foundations and grants, such as Maui United Way, to support Camp Imua.
Tell us more about Paddle Imua.
Bluesmiths Paddle Imua just celebrated its fifth year of the annual race. This one-of-a-kind, mission-based race follows the renowned Maliko downwind run and directly benefits Imua Family Services' Camp Imua program. Categories include SUP, one-person outrigger canoe, two-person outrigger canoe, prone paddleboard, and surf ski. At the finish line, we celebrate with an ohana festival, complete with a luau and beer garden, great prizes and giveaways until sunset.
Full recap and gallery from last year’s Paddle Imua
More info about Imua Family Services and Camp Imua.