WINDHAM - Like a celebrity, campers at Horizons in South Windham greeted Sen. Chris Murphy with hugs and requests to take selfies when he visited Tuesday afternoon.
They also served him a piece of cake in celebration of his birthday.
"I'm so glad to be here with you today," Murphy said, greeting campers while they dined in the cafeteria. "My job is to represent this camp, represent all of you and all your families in Washington, D.C., and I am a big, big believer in the work that you do here."
The camp is one of many services that Horizons provides for people with developmental disabilities at its main property, which is at 127 Babcock Hill Rd. in South Windham.
State Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Willimantic, State Rep. Susan Johnson, D-Willimantic, Windham Mayor Thomas DeVivo, the widow of former Gov/U.S Senator Lowell Weicker, Claudia Weicker, and many others joined Murphy for a tour of the property.
Murphy's visit was designed to highlight the importance of federal support for summer enrichment programs for children, including those with developmental disabilities.
He emphasized the importance of summer camps, such as Horizons, which he said is "providing such a tremendous experience." Horizons, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1979 by Chris McNaboe and her sister, Kathleen McNaboe, when they were special education teachers. The current property was purchased in 1985.
According to the nonprofit’s website, there were only 45 campers at the first camp, which has grown significantly over the years. The camp will serve more than 500 campers among all of the sessions this summer.
"They're almost all adults," Horizons Director of Camp and Facilities Scott Lambeck said while leading a tour of the property.
Campers can be as young as 8-years-old and do not age out.
In addition to the camp, Horizons offers various other services, including a supported employment program, educational support services and "weekend in the country," a one night, overnight program.
The Horizons staff comes from all over the world. Lambeck said more than half of the 130 staff members are international, hailing from many different countries.
Murphy said his son is currently attending a summer camp where there are several international people on the staff.
"That's one of his favorite parts is getting that perspective on the world," he said.
Murphy said he wants to help the camp get $380,000 in federal funding that would be used to build a new, outdoor classroom on the property.
"You guys like to be outdoors, right?" he said, addressing the campers.
If approved, the grant will be allocated through Congressional Directed Spending through Fiscal Year 2024 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill. The bill, which is supported by Murphy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, includes approximately $40.84 million in proposed funding for Connecticut.
Murphy said the funding passed through the Senate committee within the last month or so and has to be approved by the House committee as well. He said the goal is to get the budget in place by the end of the year.
According to Horizons President/Chief Executive Officer/Founder Chris McNaboe, the outdoor classroom will have a sturdy structure with a permanent roof, rather than the tarp areas they are currently using.
The new classroom would allow them to have more flexibility and be outside more.
Horizons will also use the funding to improve safety and accessibility on the property by installing sidewalks and additional paved roadways, connecting the already-paved areas to the cabins and program spaces.
McNaboe said that work will correct drainage problems and make the campus more handicapped-accessible.