BRANDON - It's a week Robert "Bob" Robaus looks forward to every year.
He's a registered nurse at Shriners Hospitals for Children -Tampa who for 13 years has helped out at Camp Care-a-Lot, a weeklong camping experience for youngsters ages 8 through 10 with orthopedic conditions.
Each child has received treatment at Shriners and is chosen by staff members as a good candidate for the five-night sleepover that began in the hospital in 2000 and since has been moved to Rotary's Camp Florida in Brandon.
This year's camp, which ran from July 7-12, consisted of 20 campers under the guidance and care of several hospital staff members and numerous volunteer counselors. For most, it was their first away-from-home experience minus their parents.
"Many cry when their parents drop them off, and we cry when they pick them up at the end of the week," said Robaus, who is at the camp from start to finish.
Nonstop activities at the manicured, tree-covered campsite adjacent to Lake Gornto included kayaking, canoeing, fishing, swimming, archery, and arts and crafts. Campers also were treated to an assortment of games, storytelling and a nighttime carnival on the evening prior to the camp's last day.
"It's nice because this place is fully accessible for kids with disabilities, and it's a true camping experience," Robaus said. "It is their time to shine."
Campers come from all parts of Florida and southern Georgia. The weekly expense for each participant is about $450. The expenses are paid by the hospital with the help of various fundraisers.
Shriners' campers are allowed only one such trip in order to make room for new campers the following year.
"It's great to see how this experience translates to what we do with these kids in the hospital," Robaus said.
Clad in a pink and green bathing suit, CeCe Reed of Tampa strolled down a walkway toward the No. 1 girls' dorm during the recent camp.
When asked what she liked best about the experience, her immediate response was "swimming."
"It's fun and a way to forget about having surgery," she said.
Seated side by side in wheelchairs inside the dorm were Tampa residents Lauren Neal and Lucia Poole, both 9. They'd become fast friends.
They didn't want their time at camp to end because it meant they might not see each other again. But for the moment they were focused on the idea of going swimming together.
"It's my favorite thing to do because I can't walk," Lauren said.
Hanging together outside the dining hall while waiting for lunch were third-year counselor Jared Stephenson, 17, a King High School student, and campers Josh Smith, 10, of Town 'N Country, and his buddy Jason Arroyo, 11, from Clermont.
"It's fun; they feed us well and the kids are great," Jared said. "They run me everywhere."
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at JoyceCMcKenzie@gmail.com.