I came into volunteer on the Monday morning before the 4th of July, excited for the three days ahead of me and the upcoming holiday. This was my third week as a camp counselor for Discovery Camp, the National Ability Center's day camp for children and teens with disabilities. By now I was beginning to feel like I knew what I was doing, and I was eager to take on more responsibility.
This week, however, was to be an experience new to all of the camp counselors; this three-day camp was specifically offered to kids who had never been to camp before. There were only six campers, but it was still a little intimidating. Their ages ranged from six to eight, and most of them were on the autism spectrum. Possibly the most daunting of all, however, was that most of these kids were completely new to our programs. We had all of the important information written down on their assessments, but we were at a loss for a more personal idea of what to expect.
What we should've realized, of course, was that they were kids. In many ways, we knew exactly what to expect. When we went cycling, some of the kids fell over and scraped their knees. When we went to the pool, none of them wanted to get out of the water when time was up. When we climbed on the indoor rock wall, some kids were really excited, and other kids wanted nothing to do with it.
There were, of course, a few extra concerns that we needed to be aware of; on the first day we asked a lot of questions about medical equipment and behavioral concerns. There was more than one time during the week that I shared a desperate glance with another counselor, both of us racking our minds for a creative solution to an unexpected situation that had popped up. But as the kids skipped out of camp on the last day, tugging on their parents' hands and wearing their newly designed tie-dye t-shirts, I felt very touched. They were tired and dirty and so was I, but that's what camp is all about. Later, my supervisor would reflect, "These are the moments that make our job worth it. At any other camp, these kids would've been sent home days ago, but that's not true with us. We'll find some way to make it work." Because every kid deserves a chance to go to summer camp.
This letter is from the parent:
When you called to offer James a place in the three-day camp, I must admit I was hesitant and skeptical that it would work for James. Little did I know what a great impact this little camp would have on our lives. James has a rare and severe seizure disorder that has affected his life since he was 7 months old. With frequent hard to control seizures we have been very protective of James and conservative with the activities he engages in. Due to his condition he is rarely if ever out of our protective parental hover. James attending this camp was a new window into the possibility of more independence for James and more freedom for us.
The first day was the hardest, only for me. I was nervous to put James on the bus, but he was ready and excited and kept pushing me to leave. I thought for sure you would call and ask me to come and get him. But when I checked in at noon, James was doing fine and wanted to stay. I was amazed that he (and I) had made it through the entire day.
At the end of the three days, James was exuberant. He loved every activity, especially the water slide. I was planning on attending the water activities on the third day, but once I met the staff and saw how kind and protective they were of the participants, my worries of his safety were swept away. The staff not only took excellent care of James, they were loving and supportive of him. They always had positive comments regarding James and his participation. As parents it was wonderful to begin to trust others to watch over and help James develop in new directions.
I can't even begin to express how grateful we are for this opportunity. It was such a good experience for our entire family. Please let the donor who sponsored this camp know how thankful we are for their contribution. Also please tell the staff how highly we regard them in their efforts to serve children with special needs; they are doing an excellent job. We wish you all the best, and look forward to our next activity with the NAC!
For more information about the National Ability Center, please visit: http://www.discovernac.org
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