Smiles and gasps of excitement greeted the baby kangaroo that poked its head out of a bag at the Munroe-Meyer Institute.

Kip Smith, education director of Wildlife Encounters, and his array of animals spent Wednesday afternoon at Camp Munroe, a recreational day camp in Omaha for children and youths ages 3 to 21 with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Many of the campers raised their hands excitedly when asked if they wanted to help hold the animals. Three volunteers stood bravely while Smith placed a snake around their shoulders.

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Smith said Wildlife Encounters has taken part in the camp for about a decade.

“It’s my favorite program,” Smith said. “The kids are really wonderful.”

Camp Munroe has been operating for 37 summers, and there are currently about 80 kids enrolled.

Watching the kids’ faces light up with every new animal is one of Munroe-Meyer Institute Interim Director Nicole Giron’s favorite parts of the day.

Giron said a group is invited every Wednesday afternoon during the six-week camp to create an entertaining and interactive experience for the campers. This week, the group saw a boa constrictor, baby kangaroo, alligator, coyote pup and a kinkajou.

Part of the program for 19 years, Giron has seen many of the campers grow up.

“Everyone should have a place,” Giron said. “You can see huge increases in confidence as the kids go through the camp. They get more comfortable.”

Everything about the camp is based on skill development, Giron said. The camp teaches arts and crafts, sports, social skills, adaptive therapy and performing arts.

“So many kids can travel to the zoo, but there’s not that up close and personal experience,” Giron said. “Kip does a lot of instruction. They learn a lot more from that.”

Tommy Schroeder, 16, said learning about the different animals was “really cool.”

When asked if he had a favorite, Tommy laughed: “All of them.”

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jwade@owh.com, 402-444-1067

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