SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – When the COVID-19 pandemic set in back in March 2020, longtime Camp Kostopulos camper Alex Kosmas found himself stuck at home, feeling very bored and a little depressed.
It was the first time in over a decade that the 35-year-old, who lives with cerebral palsy and has some intellectual challenges, was away from the fun and friendship at camp, which is operated by the Kostopulos Dream Foundation.
His mother, Maria, tells ABC4 that he frequently would pepper her with questions as to when he could go back to camp.
“I saw my son being very bored,” Kosmas says. “He was saying that ‘I can’t wait until I go back. I can’t wait until I go back.’ So as soon as they said OK, I said let’s try. We went there and they were all taking precautions and we all did go back smoothly.”
After a brief shutdown at the start of the pandemic, Camp Kostopulos has since reopened to serve a clientele of kids and adults with disabilities, giving them a place to safely experience outdoor and indoor activities at their own pace and skill level. Alex has gone back to Camp Kostopulos every single day since the facility’s reopening, according to his mother and camp directors.
Established in 1967, the Kostopulos Dream Foundation was named after Dan Kostopoulos, a Greek immigrant who moved to Salt Lake City in the 1920s and eventually rose to become the owner of the Broadway Theatre downtown. His vision was to give people with disabilities a place to safely socialize and enjoy the outdoors along with their friends and family members without the same challenges. While he passed away in 1965, his vision came to life with the establishment of the foundation and Camp Kostopulos.
Now, the camp has a collection of fun activities for everyone to enjoy, such as equestrian therapy, a swimming pool, and a ropes course, among other things. What makes Camp Kostopoulos unique, according to its directors and participating families, is that it’s fully inclusive. Those with disabilities are encouraged to bring their friends, families, and neighbors along for the fun.
“We realized last year that some people in a family could have a sibling without disabilities, or a neighbor or a friend, so Camp K opened up its doors for people of all abilities. So if someone with a disability has a friend or a sibling or a neighbor that does not have a disability, and they want to join Camp K, certainly they can,” Mircea Divricean, the foundation’s president and CEO, tells ABC4.
For Kosmas, having that kind of inclusivity is very important for Alex. She says not only can he learn and grow his self-esteem from being around others with less challenges, but the others can also learn a lot from Alex.
“It’s good for both of them. It’s good for Alex to mimic what the other kids do and feel good, and it’s good for kids without disabilities to see kids like Alex and feel grateful for what this is. It’s a win-win situation,” Kosmas says.
Parents like Kosmas are thankful for the foundation and the safe harbor they give to their children. Kosmas called the staff at Camp Kostopulos “special people” for the work they do.
To Divricean, who has been with the foundation for over two decades, he gets his satisfaction from watching the joy that the camp brings to its kids and families.
“For me to watch these individuals, so honest and pure in hearts and spirits, people with disabilities and children, it has been the greatest gift of my life,” he tells ABC4. “I just cannot even see myself doing anything else than, doing what I do.”
Kosmas knows Alex loves Camp Kostopulos likely because he comes home with the same happy expression that Divricean sees every day while he plays.
“After all those years, he comes back happy. With my Alex, you can tell if he’s happy where he’s at. He doesn’t have to say it.”