Camp Little Giant

March 24, 2023

Reimagined SIU Camp Little Giant returns with new opportunities, traditional favorites

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Camp Little Giant, one of the nation’s first camps specifically for people with disabilities, returns to Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Touch of Nature Outdoor Education Center in a new and reimagined form for summer 2023. The inclusive recreation camp, which launched in 1952, will now serve additional people, have more adaptive equipment for recreation and offer revamped events, while still maintaining the elements that have made it a beloved “can do” place for thousands of participants through the years, including weeklong, overnight experiences.

"We are thrilled to bring back Camp Little Giant, now 100% up to date,” said Brian Croft, director of Touch of Nature. “We spent months in consultation with former campers and staff, as well as camp industry experts, and in keeping with the accrediting body standards to assure what we offer is fun, relevant and vital to our camp participants. The Camp Little Giant of 2023 and beyond stays true to our roots and accomplishing the same goals Bill Freeberg envisioned when helping to establish the camp in the 1950s. For decades, campers have enjoyed making priceless memories here, and we are tailoring the camp to make it fit their needs and desires even better.”

Lindsay Meverden, inclusive recreation program coordinator and Camp Little Giant director, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic “had a significant impact on the socialization of populations with disabilities as many have had to isolate themselves due to the increased risk of contracting the virus.” Indeed, the camp had to switch to a day-camp only version and then took a brief hiatus to make the necessary changes.

Registration is now open for the 2023 summer camp season.

New group added

Attending summer camp can alleviate isolation caused by the pandemic, Meverden said. In addition, taking a break from technology and social media can encourage campers to engage more socially, enjoy physical activities, develop hobbies and ultimately form deeper connections with others.

Thus the new Lillypads camp for ages 9-13 has been added to the lineup. Lillypads is specifically for children who struggle in social spheres or who need a little more personalized attention than the traditional large-scale summer camp offers, Meverden said.

“Whether diagnosed with autism spectrum, generalized anxiety, ADHD or social anxiety, Lillypads campers will enjoy an experience that fosters friendship development, gently guides personal development and nurtures social growth,” Meverden said. “And campers do not  need a diagnosis to attend. The camp is also for children who just may not be ready for a camp with 50-plus campers and high camper-to-staff ratios.”

More activities than ever

The goal of Camp Little Giant since its inception is to offer participants a true summer camp experience, with inclusive activities designed for campers needs and capabilities.

“Technology in the world of adaptive outdoor sports is constantly evolving, and new equipment is becoming more available allowing us to provide experiences that were previously difficult to facilitate,” Meverden said.

Now, TON is offering adaptive zip lining, high ropes course and rock climbing, thanks to specialized equipment, including harnesses, pulleys and modified setups. There are also adaptive setups so individuals with disabilities can easily enjoy water sports such as paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing. Even archery is now possible, with specialized equipment and training programs.

“Touch of Nature has now embodied advancements to make adaptive outdoor sports more accessible and inclusive than ever before,” Meverden said.

But the longtime favorite activities that have drawn campers for years will still be part of the experience. Campers can still enjoy swimming, boat rides, dancing, campfires, nature hikes, hayrides, fishing, arts and crafts, theater, music, talent shows and so much more.

Specially trained camp staff members will adapt activities to the individual campers. It all takes place in the beautiful 3,100-acre Touch of Nature, complete with all the amenities. The camp is on the shores of Little Grassy Lake, adjacent to the Shawnee National Forest. 

Numerous camp options

There are nine different camp sessions, ranging from six to 13 days. Each is designed to serve a specific population.

The schedule includes:

  • June 11-15 – Dyna Camp, for children ages 8-12 with ADHD.
  • June 8-23 – Lillypads, for children ages 9-13 who struggle in social spheres or who need a little more attention than a traditional camp may offer.
  • June 25-30 – Dynamic Duos, session 1, for adults ages 22 and older who have developmental, cognitive or physical disabilities as well as their college-age/adult peers. The buddies will partner to enjoy camp together.
  • July 9-14 – Dynamic Duos, session 2, for adults ages 18 and older who have developmental, cognitive or physical disabilities, along with their college-age/adult peers. The buddies will partner to enjoy camp together.
  • July 16-21– Dynamic Duos, for teenagers who have developmental or cognitive disabilities, along with their volunteer peers, ages 15-19. Camper buddies will enjoy activities together.

“Camp Little Giant is affiliated with SIU, a research university, so our camp programs and activities are founded on evidence-based practice and desired outcomes, found mainly in therapeutic recreation and experiential education research,” Meverden said.

Registration now open

Camp prices vary. Some campers may qualify for scholarship assistance. Scholarships and registration are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Find the complete camp schedule, registration forms and additional details online or contact Meverden at or 618-453-3954 for more information. Details about all of the SIU summer camps is available at

Employment and volunteer opportunities

Camp Little Giant also offers a wide variety of opportunities for summer employment, fieldwork and practicums for students and volunteers. The camp, which is accredited by the American Camping Association, employs counselors, lifeguards, nurses, specialists and others to assist with nature and outdoor activities, arts and crafts, sports and games, serving as “buddies” and help with other components of the camp.

For details about employment, practicum or volunteer options, contact Meverden at or 618-453-3954.