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

Children attending a two-week summer camp at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center are shown. (KTAR photo/Bob McClay)

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.

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I live in north Phoenix with my wife Rene' and my son Devin.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: My Dad took me to see Jimmy Dean at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in the 1960's. It was before the Coliseum was built. The only thing I remember is Jimmy Dean singing his big hit "Big Bad John."

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Shiloh Community Church in Phoenix. Devin is a high school student at Scottsdale Christian Academy. He plays on the baseball, football, and basketball teams and sings in the choir. Obviously, we keep busy trying to go to all his events! We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and long road trips. We like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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