The historian Carl Becker once wrote: “The value of history is not scientific but moral: It prepares us to live more humanely in the present and to meet rather than to foretell the future.”
“The value of the Venture story, we believe, is no more or less than the value of our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and our neighbors in whom we have invested and from whom we have learned to live more humanly.” - Daniel Lukens
Camp Venture, Inc. started in 1969 as a free summer camp for children with developmental disabilities. The founding of this “venture of the heart”, however, had its early roots in a parent’s group called “the Exceptional Child PTA”.
A group of mothers who met around a kitchen table over coffee, the founders of the Exceptional Child PTA were not unlike parents of children with developmental disabilities today. What was perhaps different then was that at the time, children with disabilities had no legal right to an education. In fact, people with disabilities in the 1960’s had few recognized rights at all under the law, and there were virtually no community-based services available.
From its first days in the summer of 1969, Camp Venture summer camp was more than a program, it was a community phenomenon. Bringing together not only kids with special needs and their families, the camp attracted volunteers from all walks of life who came to offer a few hours or a few dollars to this emerging grassroots effort.
It was 1971 when reporter Gerald Rivera’s shocking expose of the Willowbrook State School revealed inhuman conditions at the state institution on Staten Island. Soon after, Kathleen Lukens, who by this time had already established herself as one of New York State’s foremost parent-advocates, toured the Letchworth Village Developmental Center in Rockland County. Mrs. Lukens would recount her experience in a poignant piece entitled “Heartbreak Village”, which achieved broad acclaim.
By 1973, Mrs. Lukens and the other founding families were joined by John Murphy, a young political leader who would later be elected to the Rockland County Legislature and serve as the President of Camp Venture.