Golden String’s Sutman Envisions Wide Use of Gabba Camp

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – James Sutman predicts clients will come from beyond the Mahoning Valley to stay at Golden String Inc.’s Gabba Camp for vacation. He also envisions multiple uses for Gabba Camp beyond its stated mission of providing recreational opportunities its target market.   

Sutman is daily director of operations for Golden String, which provides a variety of services for individuals with developmental disabilities through its various programs. He discussed his vision for Gabba Camp with U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan when the congressman visited Golden String’s downtown offices Monday morning. 

Gabba Camp will be a full-service camp for adults with disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and traumatic brain injury, Sutman said.  

A project like this “defines what kind of country we are, what kind of community we are,” Ryan, D-13 Ohio, said. The camp will “offer these families an opportunity to have a little bit of relief or have a little bit of a vacation,” he added.  

“The need is great in our community,” he said. “We all know families who are dealing with … some family member who falls into this category and this is an opportunity for us to do something.”  

Sutman outlined a campus that will consist of a lodge, 15 cabins and an amphitheater, and offer swimming and equine therapy. Infrastructure work is underway already at Gabba Camp, which is located on McCartney Road in Coitsville next to Farmer Casey’s Ranch, also operated by Golden String. 

The camp would provide a place to vacation that’s “free or nearly free” for Golden String’s clients, many of whom live below the poverty line. 

“We’re really looking at it as being a tourist vacation spot for folks with disabilities,” he said. The characterization “sounds a little strange” but there are similar recreational settings for people with disabilities elsewhere, and they can be flown into airports in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Akron and they can be picked up by Golden String vans. He also envisioned the camp providing employment opportunities for Golden String clients.  

Sutman projected the project’s cost at between $3.5 million and $4 million. Of that, about $1.6 million or so has been raised, including $750,000 from the Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation and $250,000 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds provided by Mahoning County and sponsorships of five of the proposed cabins at about $50,000 each.   

In addition to providing vacation destinations, the cabin could be used for medical quarantining or to isolate someone having behavioral issues. Through its programs, Golden String deals with individuals, especially on the autism spectrum, who have intermittent explosive disorder and may need to get away from their home for a time to cut down on the anxiety.  

He also said parts of the facilities could be rented out for events such as family reunions. He already has received calls from parties interested in having their weddings.  

Ryan, D-13 Ohio, said he and his staff were on hand to try to determine what federal funds or other community directed spending could be utilized to assist the project. 

“There’s different buckets of money,” Ryan said. He speculated there could be economic development funding opportunities and potential “brick and mortar” money in the Department of Health and Human Services. He and his staff are “going to dig in and see what we can so,” he remarked. 

Ryan earlier helped secure funds to have utilities extended to Farmer Casey’s Ranch, Sutman said. Public funding can help when seeking support from private donors, he pointed out.  

Work on the cabins should begin when the spring weather breaks and could be completed a year from this summer or possibly sooner, he said. Among the completed work is a wheelchair path around the camp’s lake and installation of a bridge at the site. 

One of the many goals for the camp is to have access for people in wheelchairs, Sutman said. Golden String provides services for individuals who have traumatic brain injuries and are wheelchair bound as a result.  

“You can’t put a price on … how much it is worth to get a person in a wheelchair out in the woods in the summertime for a week,” he said. 

Some people in a wheelchair or nursing home don’t even dream that big and often feel like misfits, he continued. “We’re trying to create a world through our camp where, OK, you’re not a misfit. There’s a lot of people like you and, you know you’re worthwhile, you’re valuable.”

Pictured at top: James Sutman and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan discuss the future of Gabba Camp.

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