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Woman who launched CAMDEN Playground proposes center for disabled adults


Talking with a group of friends and family about her plans, it’s clear Milton resident Sara Knutson is a taskmaster.

Sitting at a table in the community room at Janesville’s First Lutheran Church, Knutson works to pin down facts, numbers and ideas that arise from chit-chat, and she resets conversations, steering the focus back to the core issue the group has come to meet about.

Knutson and a group of six are trying to launch Camden’s Hope Center, a proposed nonprofit daytime activity center for local adults who have developmental and cognitive disabilities.

Knutson said some local adults with disabilities might not be living lives as full as possible because local day centers are increasingly crowded or are geared toward services for the elderly.

One of those Camden’s Hope would serve is Knutson’s son, Camden.

Knutson and her mother, Dorothy Knutson, helped a local nonprofit group launch CAMDEN Playground at Palmer Park in Janesville. It’s specially designed for use by physically and cognitively disabled children.

CAMDEN Playground has been in operation since 1993, and it’s named after Sara Knutson’s son, Camden. The proposed day center, Camden’s Hope, also would be named after Camden.

When CAMDEN Playground was built, Camden was a boy.

Now, Camden is a 36-year-old man who is fully ambulatory but who has autism.

In some ways, Camden’s outward behaviors haven’t progressed much beyond his childhood years, and he lives at home with Knutson.

Camden is mostly nonverbal, but his mother said he comes alive when he hears country music.

“He sings every word,” she said.

Knutson works during the day at a local retail store, and when she goes to work, Camden goes to a daytime activity center in Janesville from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Because Knutson’s work hours don’t jibe with the hours her son’s day center runs, Camden needs wraparound services at home early in the day.

Now, Camden gets bused to and from the activity center. The center costs about $21 an hour, although Knutson said Camden’s services are paid through the state’s Family Care program.

Cost is not the issue, Knutson said. Services are.

Knutson said one of the three or four local daytime centers available for adults with disabilities is geared toward daytime work programs. Some of the others are increasingly geared toward serving disabled senior citizens who have a high demand for physical care and feeding. Others, she said, have waiting lists or are “crowded,” their staff outnumbered by clients “six to one.”

Because of the shift in client demographics and the logistical demands her son’s center seems to face, Knutson said Camden is seeing less of the kind of activities she thinks would best benefit the social health and well being of people in Camden’s age category—20 to 64.

Knutson declined to name the center Camden uses, but she said because of circumstances there, Camden’s day consists mainly of eating lunch and being bused to and from the center, Knutson said.

“He doesn’t have a very productive or enriched day,” Knutson said. “So we want to open a center for him and others like him.”

Camden’s Hope would be a faith-based center staffed by three or four people. It would be dedicated to daytime social activities for up to 10 ambulatory adults with “moderate” developmental or cognitive disabilities.

Organizers envision a center that could have three to four staff, including an educational and activities coordinator.

The center would focus largely on getting clients out into the community for daily activities—something she said isn’t happening often enough for Camden.

Examples could include excursions for bowling, movies, dining or shopping, said Becky Saterback, a Camden Hope organizer who said she has a background in public education.

Jennifer Thompson, division manager of the Rock County Aging and Disability Resource Center, said estimates through the U.S. Census Bureau show about 8 percent of the adult population in Wisconsin between ages 18 and 64 is considered disabled to some degree.

In Rock County, that would put the population of adults with disabilities at about 7,800.

Thompson said last year the county resource center had 3,286 contacts with adults with developmental disabilities such as autism. That accounts for about 16 percent of contacts the center had overall.

Thompson said it’s hard to know how many people locally face circumstances like Camden and his family, but she indicated his age group is underserved by day services. She’s glad to hear organizers through Camden’s Hope are focusing on day activities for young to middle-aged adults with disabilities.

“That would be awesome because we do see that area of programming as being really limited,” she said.

Camden’s Hope is early in development. Among other things, it’s looking for commercial space in a location to serve the Janesville and Milton areas.

Organizers are trying to identify costs and are researching funding sources. The group is meeting with a lawyer this week to discuss incorporating Camden’s Hope as a nonprofit entity.

Todd Long, Camden’s stepfather, said he, Knutson and other organizers of Camden’s Hope have a lot to learn about running a day center, but most involved have life experience caring for family members with developmental disabilities.

“We’re early in the process of what we’re looking at, but we are veterans in the process of this whole situation,” he said.


An earlier version of this story did not clearly explain Sara Knutson’s connection to the CAMDEN Foundation, the nonprofit group that founded the CAMDEN Playground in Janesville. Knutson was an early board member for the CAMDEN Foundation, and helped raise funding to build CAMDEN Playground. Sherry Kuelz and Todd Long originally founded the Camden Foundation, and filed for nonprofit status for the foundation in 1990, Sherry Kuelz said.

Angela Major 

Sue and Tom Skinner stand in the entryway of the smokehouse that Ron Peterson, a historical limestone mason, rebuilt on their property in Janesville. The couple will offer a historical program called “The Art of Curing and Smoking Meats” on Saturday, Sept. 8.

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Rainy Labor Day weekend tests mettle of event organizers, visitors


Despite consistent rain all weekend that forced the postponement or cancellation of multiple events, Walworth County Fair volunteers and visitors weren’t letting the nasty weather get them down.

“We’ve seen several videos and pictures floating around with kids running through the water and a bunch of kids doing cartwheels through big, huge puddles,” Walworth County Fair General Manager Larry Gaffey said. “People are making the best of it. Spirits are good here.”

Some folks who camped out on the fairgrounds cast fishing poles and placed fake alligators in pools of standing water. It seemed most people who braved the rain accepted it would be muddy and didn’t let it bother them, he said.

But the rain was still enough to cancel some holiday events.

Organizers of Janesville’s Labor Day parade canceled it early Monday morning, hours before the parade was scheduled to snake through downtown.

In Edgerton, the Rock River Thresheree canceled its fourth and final day Monday. Thresheree Board President Todd Ligman said he didn’t think that had ever happened before in the event’s 60-plus-year history.

The grounds at Thresherman’s Park were somewhat torn up and had up to 3 feet of standing water in low-lying places. At least the soil drains well and dries quickly, he said.

The first three days of the Thresheree went on as planned, even though it rained off and on all weekend. Attendance declined, but those who did show up still enjoyed the historical tractor festival, he said.

Attendance also dipped at the Walworth County Fair after a strong start. The first three days of the six-day festival each had more people than in 2017, but Saturday and Sunday attendance decreased by about 13,000 total people, Gaffey said. He also expected Monday’s attendance to be down compared to 2017, undoing the hot opening.

Though a flood warning was in effect, the rain didn’t do drastic damage across the area. Rock County Communications Center shift supervisor Fredd Carr said he had not heard reports of any major flooding.

More rain is expected Wednesday, but the rest of the week looks mostly clear, according to Accuweather forecasts.

In Elkhorn, Gaffey said the fair postponed a scheduled Sunday concert from Newsboys United and was working on rescheduling. Several horse events were also canceled or ended early for the animals’ safety on muddy tracks.

Still, he credited many volunteers for keeping the fair running smoothly. The early days of the fair featured big crowds for tractor pulls and motorcycle racing.

Even on the fair’s final day, as rain continued to fall, Gaffey described over the phone the scene at the demolition derby. Plenty of people had taken advantage of the covered bleachers to close the weekend, he said.

“It’s raining like cats and dogs, and they are still rocking and rolling right now,” he said. “And I’ve got a full grandstand.”

Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 4, 2018

Gerry R. Bean

Jeanette M. Brearley

Geraldine C. Hilt

Joanne “Jo” K. Hubacher

Frank Donovan Jameson

Debra “Debbie” June Jones

Joyce A. McGuire

Dorothy Reddy

John Patrick Regester

Sally Alma Reisem

Barbara K. Schuren

George A. Taylor

Jeanette B. Taylor

David C. Yoss

Aaron Gash 

Milwaukee Brewers' Christian Yelich reacts after driving in the game winning run during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Monday, Sept. 3, 2018, in Milwaukee. The Brewers won 4-3. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)