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Valley kids with cleft lips and palates attending summer camp at St. Joseph’s Hospital

PHOENIX — A dozen Phoenix children are attending a summer camp this week that could help them for the rest of their lives.

A magic show, painting and cooking are just a few of the activities that the kids will be involved in during the two-week-long “Happy Campers” speech camp for kids with Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate. It’s taking place at the Barrow Cleft and Craciofacial Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Juan Maldanado, 12, said he is having fun. What’s his favorite part about it?

“Playing video games, which help us improve our speech,” he said.

Therapist Deborah Leach said that the children attending the camp have been through a lot.

“Most of these children have already had about five surgeries, and are in the middle of their orthodontic care,” said Leach. “They have real challenges because they have a lot of appliances in their mouth. It’s difficult for them to speak. It’s difficult for them to chew. It’s difficult for them to keep their mouth closed and do things the right way.”

Leach said that the goal of the camp is to help improve the kids’ speech so that they can do communicate better.

“Things like interacting with their peers, ordering at a restaurant, doing craft activities. The goal is to get them to speak well enough that they can take their good speech and use it in those environments,” said Leach.

With the camp happening inside the hospital, it’s in a place where the kids are with their peers, and aren’t being bullied by other children. Juan said he likes that.

“Going to camp, I feel the same as everybody else, and you don’t get made fun of,” he said.

The camp runs for the next two weeks and is free to the patients and their families. The Barrow center is the only one of its kind in the Southwest, caring for approximately 6,400 children up to age 21, Leach said.