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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    At a little more than three feet tall, 19-year-old Brittany Waterhouse, right, of West Paris, Maine, said reaching stovetops is one of the difficulties she encounters at her height. Meeting for the fifth year, little people from throughout New England meet for the weekend at Camp Allen in Bedford, Friday, August 13, 2010.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Julie Pierce holds her four-year-old son, Reagan at Camp Allen in Bedford, Friday, August 13, 2010. Reagan, who is a little person, is spending the weekend with his family at Little People Camp.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Nineteen-year-old Brittany Waterhouse, left, and Samantha O'Connor, 12, watch a group shoot basketballs at Camp Allen in Bedford, Friday, August 13, 2010. Waterhouse, who was born dwarf, was unable to play due to recent neck surgery. Surgeries are common to little people.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Valeria O'Connor, left, walks to the basketball courts with 19-year-old Brittany Waterhouse Friday, August 13, 2010. O'Connor's son, Casey is one of a handful of little people from throughout New England meeting for the weekend at Camp Allen in Bedford.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Ruth Ricker.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Casey O'Connor, center, and Robbie Cressman shoot baskets during LIttle People Camp held at Camp Allen in Bedford, Friday, August 13, 2010.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Meeting for the fifth year, little people from throughout New England meet for the weekend at Camp Allen in Bedford, Friday, August 13, 2010.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    (From left) Jani Ricker, Casey O'Connor and Robbie Cressman play Monopoly at Little People Camp Friday, August 13, 2010. Meeting for the fifth year, little people from throughout New England meet for the weekend at Camp Allen in Bedford.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    At a little more than three feet tall, 19-year-old Brittany Waterhouse, right, of West Paris, Maine, said reaching stovetops is one of the difficulties she encounters at her height. Meeting for the fifth year, little people from throughout New England meet for the weekend at Camp Allen in Bedford, Friday, August 13, 2010.
Monday, August 16, 2010

Camp a chance for kids, teens with dwarfism to connect

BEDFORD – Reagan Pierce may be short, but nothing about him is small.

With boundless energy and fiery red hair to match, the 4-year-old, diagnosed with achondroplasia dwarfism, darted around Camp Allen in Bedford this weekend like a pinball.

With his parents in tow, he raced from one end of the camp to the other, making friends and fans along the way. And within minutes, it was clear Reagan, who stands about 3 feet tall, had found a playground big enough to hold him.

The Pierces, up from East Lyme, Conn., gathered this weekend with other families at the Bedford campground for Camp CAYA, an annual weekend retreat for children and teenagers with dwarfism.

“This place is perfect for him,” Reagan’s mother, Julie Pierce, said Friday as she chased her son across the campground. “It’s a place for him to get out, run around, be a kid.”

“They might have taken away his height gene, but they replaced it with a happy gene,” she said with a broad smile. “He loves it here.”

Four teenagers and their families joined Reagan at the camp Friday afternoon, playing board games and shooting baskets, among other activities. And as many as 14 families, or 35 people, were expected by the end of the weekend – smaller numbers than in past years, organizers said.

Now in its fifth year, the camp, which is open to families throughout the northeast, has drawn up to 20 families from across the region, said Ruth Ricker, a former president of the Little People of America national association, who launched the camp in 2006.

Ricker, 50, who lives in Boston, had attended a LPA camp in Pennsylvania, with her son Jani – both are dwarfs. But, after several years, the drive got to be a long one, she said.

“We thought once, on the long drive back ‘We should do this in New England somewhere,’ ” Ricker recalled. “Not only would it save us the drive . . . but all the families in New England could benefit. . . . It would give them somewhere (closer) to go.”

Having considered camps throughout the region, Ricker and her friend, Barbara Kennedy, settled on Camp Allen, which hosts summer programs for people with developmental disabilities, among other challenges. The camp’s location, central among New England states, and its paved pathways and accessible facilities made it an ideal spot, Ricker said. And the mission of Camp CAYA, which stands for Come As You Are, immediately resonated, said Mary Constance, Camp Allen’s executive director.

“One of the things we have always focused on is making sure our camp is open and accessible to all kinds of people,” Constance said last week. “We were really excited to have them here. We still are.”

The camp, which costs about $35 a night for each person, is largely informal, without any real schedule or structure. Though Camp Allen provides a lifeguard and several cooks, there are no councilors to lead programs, leaving the campers and families to plan activities themselves.

Most days consist of sports, games, boating, swimming and crafts. Each night, campers light up a bonfire, and they sleep in the camp cabins.

But for most, the highlight of the weekend is in the company, they said.

Most campers, who represent each of the six New England states, see each other several times a year, at camp and at regional LPA conferences, held twice a year.

“It’s good to see your friends, to just hang out,” said Jani Ricker, 18, Ruth’s son, who was diagnosed with dwarfism.

“It’s a little different here,” added Casey O’Connor, 14, of Scituate, R.I., who is in his third year at the camp. “When we play, it’s even. There’s no big disadvantage. . . . (The people here) know what it’s like.”

The camp can provide opportunities for parents and families, as well, some family members said, helping them to make connections with others living with dwarfism.

“Where we live, there aren’t too many opportunities to . . . talk to other families,” said Julie Pierce, Reagan’s mother. “It’s nice to make friends. This way, when something happens I have someone to call other than a doctor.”

And that sense of community is the mission of Camp CAYA, said Ruth Ricker, who hopes to expand the camp in future years with the help of grant money and further donations.

Fundraisers held throughout the year help to defray costs for some families who can’t afford the camp, but some families still struggle with the finances, she said.

“A lot of us see each other (at the regional meetings), but this is 24 hours a day,” Ricker said. “Getting together with peers, sleeping in cabins together, it has that magical element to it. . . . It’s that shared experience.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.