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Roots Revealed Blog

The Youngsters Camp Out: Part Three

Posted: 8/14/2013
Posted By: Judith MacKeigan

As summer draws to a close, and the kids get ready to head back to school (cue groans from the kids and smiles from the parents) I am finishing up my series of posts on summer camps.  This month I am highlighting Camp Cheerful.   Operated by the Achievement Centers for Children (originally known as the Society for Crippled Children) Camp Cheerful has been a place for children and adults with disabilities to enjoy traditional camp activities since 1947.  But there was an earlier camp on this Strongsville site with a very different focus.

Headline from 1941 Plain Dealer feature on Captain Arthur Roth

In the 1930s Cleveland policeman Captain Arthur Roth was chosen by Cleveland Safety Director Elliot Ness to head the Juvenile Bureau.  Roth had pioneered many safety programs in the 1920s, using his own resources to create programs to teach children traffic safety.  His work with the Juvenile Bureau led him to find ways to “divert energies” of young men into “polite and peaceful pursuits.”  He and his men organized boys clubs and Scout Troops and helped older boys find jobs.  In a newspaper interview in 1941 Roth stated that “we don’t like jails for kids . . . we try to correct the cause of delinquency.”  That year Roth used donated funds, WPA work and community help to turn an old farmhouse and land in the Strongsville area of the Rocky River Reservation (now Mill Stream Reservation) into a camp for “at risk” youth called Paradise Valley Camp.

Paradise Valley operated with moderate success during the war years, but lack of funding and other concerns led to its closing in 1947.  At that time the Society for Crippled Children had been using the facilities at Paradise Valley for day camps and in 1948 they officially took over the site and renamed it Camp Cheerful.  A grant from the Cleveland Rotary Foundation helped to furnish funds to expand and modernize the camp.  Five large sleeping cabins, a central washhouse and a sewage treatment center were built, while the administration building and craft center were renovated.  Paved walkways were created to accommodate wheelchairs and crutches.  By 1949 the camp opened for a full summer program.  The first campers were children with orthopedic and cardiac disabilities referred to the camp by physicians, hospitals, schools and social agencies. 

Arial shot of Camp Cheerful circa 1963

While the Society for Crippled Children had pushed for legislation in the 1920s to provide schooling and social opportunities for children with physical disabilities, even by the 1940s many were still socially isolated.  Camp Cheerful not only provided the chance for these kids to enjoy typical camp activities, but allowed them to enjoy the company of kids their own age. 

Over sixty years later Camp Cheerful is still providing these same opportunities. The Society for Crippled Children has become Achievement Centers for Children, reflecting advances in our understanding and attitudes in regards to physical and mental challenges.  But at the heart of Camp Cheerful is still the same idea that brought the camp, and its predecessor, Paradise Valley, to life. The men and women who created these places recognized the need to include kids who might otherwise have been left out, because we all benefit as a society when we value all of our individual members.

"On the nature trail" photo courtesy of CSU Special Collections Cleveland Memory Project


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