For a waiting and hungry group of young campers, Chief Nick Mueller does not mind toiling over a hot pizza oven.
The Effingham County culinary master is an annual guest and participant in the Lowcountry Down Syndrome’s annual Camp Buddy, held last week at Rincon Elementary School.
“I look forward to it more and more every year,” he said. “They’re inspiring. They’re determined to have fun.”
Mueller prepared pizzas for the campers and the staff and also brought along the makings for fruit kebabs. The kebabs served a purpose beyond nutrition and being tasty. It also enabled the kids to work on the motor skills and their ability to memorize, since they had to assemble the fruit on their stick just as the chef had on his own kebab spear.
Mueller has been coming to Camp Buddy for the last five years. He originally started working with the group through special education teacher Traci Love-Whitaker, who went to college with Mueller.
“It’s something I can be a part of,” he said. “It’s zero stress for me. It’s rare for me to get three or four hugs a day, and I just got 50 from people who mean it. They don’t have dishonesty and deceit, which is refreshing in the world. It’s just 100 percent reward. This camp is such a neat thing.”
The Effingham location for Camp Buddy — another will be held in Chatham County next month — started out at the First Baptist Church of Springfield. It has been at Rincon Elementary School for the last two years.
“We’re really happy,” said Joe Marchese, whose daughter Ella is one of the campers.
The camps are designed for children ages 3-13 with Down syndrome. Through the camps, they are able to retain the skills they’ve learned the previous school year. Camp activities include music, dance, arts and crafts, and physical education. Each camper also receives a medal and an individualized therapy plan.