Traditionally different

Karen-Anne King stands in front of the statue of a pride of lions on the Texas Lion’s Camp grounds, erected in 2002, long after she first spent summers working there in the 1990s. Now she’s vice-president of summer camp, and her own “pride” lives on the campus.

Karen-Anne King is vice-president for summer camp at the Texas Lion’s Camp. She says she runs a traditional summer camp for children.

“We have all the activities other Hill Country summer camps do,” she says. “Our campers ride horses, take our canoes and paddle-boats out on our pond, work through low and high ropes courses including a zipline, swim, participate in craft workshops, and learn about farm life with live animals. They do everything from archery to overnight campouts.”

On the other hand, King says the population they are specialized to serve is very different than the other camps. “At Texas Lion’s Camp, every camper comes with some sort of physical disability. We welcome kids with 150 different challenges, including hearing and vision, different types of cerebral palsy, spina bifida, type 1 diabetes, Down syndrome, and cancer.

“But we don’t see disabilities,” she says. “All our activities are geared to accommodate a camper’s abilities. If a camper has no upper body strength, but wants to ride a horse, we make it happen. It’s a ‘can do’ philosophy we call ‘challenge by choice.’ We’re willing to do what’s necessary to make accommodations. If a visually-impaired camper wants to shoot a bow and arrow, we hang a kitchen timer on the bullseye, and they shoot for the ‘ding.’ Believe it or not, we have to replace a lot of kitchen timers.”

King says the camp hires 185 to 200 staff for all or part of the 10 weeks of summer. They have about 150 camp counselors, usually from all over the world. “Our counselors are from everywhere, from England and Ireland, to Australia, to Mexico. They’re encouraged to bring their culture to camp, so our Texas kids can experience people from other countries.”

She says the 10 weeks include one week of training, six weeks of campers with physical disabilities, one week of children with cancer, and the last two weeks host kids with type 1 diabetes.

In addition to the counselors, King says the campers’ medical needs are handled by 12 to 15 nurses. During the diabetes sessions that’s augmented by a full medical staff, including five to seven doctors, five to seven nurses, and a dietician. The rest of the staff is diabetes-trained as well. “It’s a mix,” she says. “We have former diabetic campers who return, and we use nursing and medical students. Our array of staff bring a wealth of knowledge that helps us bridge the gap between our camper’s goals and their different abilities. I tell them, ‘Your perception is your reality. If you don’t like your reality, change your perception.’”

She says the camp hosts about 200 Texas children per session, totaling about 1,500 kids per summer. All of them attend Texas Lion’s Camp sponsored by a local Texas Lion’s Club, with no charge to the camper’s family.

“TLC is a hidden gem in the Hill Country, and it shouldn’t be. More people should know the wonderful work we do here,” she says.

King says she was born on Staten Island, N.Y. Her father, Andres Espinosa, came to the U.S. from Cuba when he was nine years old, and later married King’s mother, Nancy-Alice Whitney.

But King’s grandmother, Nancy-Alice Salisbury, worked as a nurse anesthetist at the Kerrville Veteran’s Administration hospital, and King’s family moved to Kerrville in 1976, when King was two.

She says, “We then moved to Florida, where I attended elementary school through my junior year of high school, but moved to Ingram in time for me to be a senior at Ingram Tom Moore and graduate with the Class of 1992.”

After graduation, King says she worked summers at TLC while she attended nursing school at Angelo State University. After she earned her RN she worked at Hill Country Memorial Hospital, while being the TLC medical director over summers.

She says she met Steven King in 1994, when they were both TLC counselors. “We didn’t start out liking each other much, it was definitely not ‘love at first sight.’ But for July 4 of 1995 he cooked a spaghetti dinner, and we took it up to the highest point on the camp, and watched the fireworks at Louise Hays Park and in town while we ate. We got married in 1996.”

Now they are raising three children, and King says her favorite job is ‘mom.’ Bella Grace is a freshman at Angelo State University, Hailey Hope is a sophomore at Tivy High School, and Benjamin is a seventh-grader at Peterson Middle School.

“They have no hyphens,” King says. “All the time I was growing up, whenever I was filling out a bubble-form for scantron tests, there was never a bubble for hyphen.”

She says she and Steven raised all three of their children on TLC, except for one year. “We lived in a house on camp until Steven retired from camping in 2017. At the time, I had been working for Kerrville Independent School District for four years, as their health director and as Tivy’s school nurse, so we rented a house in Kerrville for a year. Then I was hired as TLC VP of Camping in 2018, and we moved back into the same TLC house we had before.”

King says when Steven retired they decided to open their own business, King’s Texas Smokehouse, with locations in Camp Wood and at the Hunt Store, so she spends much of her non-camp time helping out there. She also loves to bicycle.

She says she’s still involved with KISD, as a member of the district’s school health advisory council, and she and Steven are leading a Bible study at Impact Christian Fellowship. “It’s called ‘Immersed Beginnings,’ studying the Bible chronologically from the start.”

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