A special place certain to tug at your heart

Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

Like many northerners, I had never heard of Lake Martin, Ala., which much to my surprise is one of that state’s most popular tourist destinations.

It is billed as Alabama’s “Freshwater Coast,” sporting nearly 900 miles of pristine shoreline and more than 40,000 acres of stunning views, according to the Lake Martin Tourist Association, which is in the business of touting the many virtues of the area.

It is a place that attorney Peter Levy expected to visit just once before he experienced a decided change of heart.

The mammoth reservoir known as Lake Martin was formed by the construction of Martin Dam on the Tallapoosa River, beginning in 1923 and ending 3 years later. The resulting creation was then the largest man-made body of water in the world. The Alabama Power Co. uses the dam to generate hydroelectric power for the region, which includes the Alabama capital city of Montgomery to the south and the state’s largest metropolitan region, Birmingham-Hoover, to the north.

Evidently, the Alabama utility also has a heart, years ago donating land along the lake for what would become Camp ASCCA, the largest recreational retreat in Alabama for children and adults with disabilities.

The acronym – ASCCA – stands for Alabama’s Special Camp for Children and Adults. The year-round 236-acre camp, located on the shores of Lake Martin in east central Alabama, serves children and adults with mental and/or physical disabilities that range from autism and Asperger’s syndrome to such diseases as Multiple Sclerosis and Muscular Dystrophy, as well as a host of other life-altering disorders that fall in between.  

Originally affiliated with the national Easter Seals program, the camp opened in 1976 and over the past 46 years has touched the lives of “tens of thousands of children and adults with disabilities” through an assortment of therapeutic recreational programs and activities, ASCCA officials indicated.

The camp’s mission, according to officials, is “to help people with disabilities achieve equality, dignity, and maximum independence” in a society that all too often has unknowingly erected barriers to such inclusivity. 

Peter Levy’s connection to the camp began through his friendship with Dr. Glenn Roswal, a former Division 1 tennis player and coach who has devoted much of his life’s energy to helping improve the fortunes of the disabled. Levy was a youth when they first met at a summer camp in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Roswal worked there as a camp counselor, eventually becoming involved in the Special Olympics program championed by founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

“Glenn invited me to what I thought would be a one-time trip to rural Alabama where this camp for the disabled was located,” Levy recalled. “I never expected to go back.”

But he has – repeatedly, forging a life-long bond with a camp program that is “transformational in nature,” according to Levy, a Harvard alum who earned his law degree from Cornell University.

“It is an extraordinarily unique program that has become a passion of mine,” said Levy. “It’s hard to put into words all the benefits of the camp experience and the impact that it can have on increasing confidence and the level of independence for those participating. It is simply amazing to see the positive response from children and young adults to the activities, and how long-lasting the benefits can be for them.”

He is not the least bit hesitant to call the camp the “most awe-inspiring place” he has ever visited. In fact, it stands alone in that regard, he said.

“Miracles occur there daily,” Levy said frankly. “I kid you not.” 

Of particular note, all areas of the camp are wheelchair accessible, opening up a world of possibilities that many have never seen or experienced, said Levy.

“On a day-to-day level, those with disabilities are invisible to most of us,” said Levy. “We don’t think about what their needs are, what their joys and fears are, and what barriers they experience in living a fulfilling life. This camp goes a long way in making sure that the mentally and physically disabled are recognized, valued, and fully appreciated.”

The camp offers more than 25 activities , including horseback riding, hiking, rock climbing, swimming, boating, fishing, music, and arts and crafts to name just a few.

 “Each activity area offers a unique experience and allows the camper to succeed on his or her own, as well as in an environment of peer support,” according to the camp website. “Camp ASCCA’s safe, supportive environment encourages the camper to meet new challenges. The major goal at Camp ASCCA is to serve those who can derive maximum benefit from the resident camp experience and provide a healthier, happier, longer, and more productive life for children and adults of all abilities.”

Levy and his family have helped make it so, giving the camp program a boost in a variety of ways over the past two decades. Levy’s daughter, Dara, spent a summer at the camp as its youngest staff member. The experience had a profound influence on her personally. Dara recently returned to Camp ASCCA to share her professional insight on media issues and fund-raising with the marketing team and as the keynote speaker to the Board of Directors.   

Another glowing example was when Levy’s son, Adam, in the spirit of his bar mitzvah celebration as a teen, spearheaded a project to build wheelchair accessible picnic tables for the camp.

“I advised him to start at the top when he was trying to drum up support for the project,” said Levy.

A letter to the CEO of Home Depot paid handsome dividends in the form of a $2,500 gift certificate, which helped fund the purchase of enough lumber and related supplies to build six picnic tables.

Those tables were soon accented with umbrellas and later a “tiki bar” outfitted with a Slushee machine. 

Not to be outdone, Levy and Roswal teamed in the building of the Roswal-Levy Climbing Tower, now the world’s largest wheelchair-accessible interactive climbing tower, outfitted with special ramps, harnesses, and pulleys.

The Roswal-Levy friendship also spawned the construction of a tennis pavilion. 

“Whatever we have given, we get back many times over,” Levy said. “It’s a place that will open your eyes to a world of possibilities.”

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