Evan King is the in-between child, the only brother of two sisters.
The Lilburn native and Berkmar High School grad’s older sister is a type 1 diabetic. His younger sister, Christina King, is a 17-year-old rising senior at Berkmar. Though watching her have to constantly adapt to life as a diabetic with Down Syndrome, King was inspired to help make life adapt to her.
King, a theatre and speech pathology double-major at the University of Georgia, has spent his summer as a camp counselor at Camp Twin Lakes-Rutledge, which provides fully-accessible camp programs that teach campers with special needs to overcome obstacles.
According to a release from the camp, roughly 3,600 campers will fill the cabins at Camp Twin Lakes this summer, including children with congenital heart defects, pediatric cancer, diabetes, asthma, epilepsy and other conditions.
This is not a program that forces campers to adapt; it’s a camp that adapts to its campers.
Growing up, helping his younger sister has influenced King’s decision to work to empower kids with special needs.
“She is a big part of why I’m willing to give up my summer,” he said. “Being there all these years and seeing the amount of work that is required for her to be like everyone else, I realized there are not enough people who do what I do right now.”
King first heard about the camp when his family would drop off his older sister, Lauren, who was a camper herself.
The activities at Camp Twin Lakes aren’t that different from another summer camp — there are water sports like swimming and kayaking, horseback riding and crafts. It’s not easy for every camper to participate, but that’s where King’s and his co-workers’ critical thinking skills come into play.
This summer, a Twin Lakes camper with spina bifida — a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly and is sometimes evident in skin-level birthmarks or protruding spinal tissue — wanted to ride a horse. The condition makes it impossible for her to support herself on horseback.
There were two problems, the obvious one being back support. An adaptive saddle helped that easily enough. King said the counselors were also wary not to spook the horses. To troubleshoot the problem, eight counselors took turns holding the camper up and feeding horses as she trotted for about 10 minutes.
The plan unfolded brilliantly.
“She was crying,” King said. “Until you see that — it didn’t put into perspective how much what I do changes the lives of these kids.”
King has a new passion to go with his interest in theatre. He wants to continue to work with special needs kids in his future career.
“Everything you do affects these campers in a positive or negative way,” he said. “If they’re not doing anything, create some mind games. We’re finding ways to get through to these kids in a way that makes them feel loved and appreciated. … A lot of these campers are never surrounded by people who have the same conditions they have. In that perspective, you really have to be creative but also know when to take a step back and assess a camper’s ability.”
King said he’s learned never to preemptively judge a person by their limitations. He said he lives life believing in a quote from 20th-century author William Arthur Ward: “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.”
“You never know what people are capable of until they’re in that situation,” King said.