MIDDLEFIELD – Colorful characters were all around at the John J. Nerden Regional Training Center Camp on Thursday, July 13. It was "Cartoon Day," and Nerden campers and staff dressed for the occasion. They also took part in an activity to make "Toy Story 4"-themed hats. Smiles were aplenty at the camp on Powder Hill Road.
Camp Nerden serves people age 6 and up with intellectual disabilities.
There is no charge to attend. The camp is funded through local service clubs and the communities where campers reside.
Camp director Sue Chenard described Nerden as “a wonderful environment where everybody has a chance to be themselves and have a great summer."
The 2023 camp season began June 26 and ends Aug. 11. This year, Nerden has had an average of 90 campers attend each day, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The overall camp enrollment — 110 — is up a bit from last year. Nerden has 18 official staff members and 40 “Counselor in Training” volunteers.
Meriden resident James Straight has served as a Nerden volunteer for five years. His sister is a camper. “I love working with the kids,” said Straight, who is heading into his junior year at Platt High School .
Another volunteer, Celine Cardona, decided to help out at the camp after seeing her father, U.S Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, do the same. “He encouraged me to do it last year. I fell in love with the program,” said Cardona, a rising senior at Maloney High School in Meriden. She said her experience at the camp has inspired her to pursue a career in special education.
After volunteering at the camp for two years, this summer, Rockfall resident Brady Koba became a Nerden staff member. “My friends and I decided to give it a try, ” said Koba, a sophomore at the University of Hartford majoring in special education.
Beginning Friday at 5 p.m. and continuing for the next 24 hours, the Meriden Motorcycle Club is sponsoring its annual “Road Bike/Dirt Bike Ride” to benefit Camp Nerden.
The fundraising ride starts and ends at the motorcycle club’s headquarters on Stantack Road in Middletown. Riders will travel through Middletown, Middlefield, Durham, Wallingford and North Branford, cruising along routes 157, 147, 68 and 17 and passing by Camp Nerden.
The Meriden Motorcycle Club is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Chenard, the camp director, said the club is a “great organization that helps Camp Nerden tremendously — not just monetarily — but helps out with camp projects that need to be done, such as painting. And club members recently built a pergola behind the bleachers near the pool area.”