by Margarita Solis, MSSA Assistant Director, Bradford Woods
There are hundreds of residential programs within the United States that
provide opportunities for children of all ability levels to participate
in a scope of outdoor and creative recreational, camp, and adventure
activities. Choosing the best camp for your child to attend should
be a serious endeavor and choosing a camp for a child with a disability
should not be any different if the perspective is choosing the camp
that will offer the greatest opportunities and will keep your child
safe. This is not always an easy task, however there are many resources
to support you this process.
The following illustrations are a culmination of real experiences and
real examples. It illustrates the parent perspective, the process
and experiences of a parent sending a child to camp.
Opening day of camp…the drive!
The two-hour drive to camp is filled with a wonderment of the opportunities
that will be experienced by my child at her first day of a residential
camp experience. All emotions are experienced in those two hours.
Guilt in leaving my child for two weeks; anxiety about the staff
that will care for my child while I am away…will they really take
care of my child as I do? What happens if something happens to her
wheelchair? Will they call me? What if she catches a cold, will
I be contacted? The parent duality of emotions is starting to kick
in strongly, that is, wanting to let go to support growth and normal
experiences for my child and wanting to turn around and bring her
back home. I hope that I completed the extensive camp application
correctly as this will give the camp staff a well-rounded perspective
but limited knowledge (parent duality) on who my child is. More
than 100 miles later and what seems to have been one thousand thoughts
later we arrive…
Have you got that Spirit…yeah man! That camp Spirit…yeah man…are
words sung to a melody as we approach the camp welcome shelter.
The parking lot is filled with accessible vans similar to ours.
Staff neatly dressed in their cool blue camp t-shirts come to greet
us and to help us navigate through opening day.
The Cabin Experience
Suitcases are being unpacked and a bunk has been selected. Cabins are
accessible, clean and spacey for my daughter's new electric wheelchair.
Bathrooms are supported with assistive devices as the counselors
give us and the other families a grand tour. As I look back at my
daughter, she has already made connections with her cabin mate.
A feeling of great relief runs through me. I take some time to sit
down with the counselors to go over the 10-page application with
the five additional pages I added. We discussed unique ways to support
my daughter both in describing her beautiful personality to demonstrating
the best ways to support her physically, that is, how to transfer,
charge her wheelchair, and ways to support her throughout her stay.
I am impressed with the knowledge of the counselors. They seem to
ask very solid questions based on my written notes on the application.
I remember their names and asked them to ensure that my daughter
sends a letter or two (or three or four) home while she is here.
They assure me they will. We are unpacked…. time for the health
center visit. As I leave the cabin I notice there are five staff
and eight campers in a cabin almost a 1:2 ratio…good!
The Health Center
This is the heart of information. We sit down with one of the camp's
nurses to explain the medications, health histories, emergency numbers,
allergies, and any and all information about the health of my child.
The camp nurse explains that the nursing staff at camp comes to
the child versus the child coming to the health center for their
medications. Medications are given during meal times in the dining
hall, cabins, or at the evening activity. The goal is to keep the
child in the camp experience without interruption from medical intervention.
So the nurses are traveling nurses at camp and seek to decentralize
their process versus centralize all activity in the health center.
We complete a basic health screen (temperature, blood pressure,
skin checks, etc) and the nurse documents all this information.
I take some time to review and also sign the document. The nurse
describes that all medications are kept in the health center under
lock and key and only the medical staff have access to the cabinets.
Their medical resource is a children's hospital 25 miles away but
for emergencies there are medical facilities 8 miles away. The medical
advisor is always a phone call away (on-call support from a physician
medical director). As I wait until the nurse returns with copies
of the documentation, I see children with all types of assisted
devices, children with ventilators, G-Tubes, walkers, scooters,
manual chairs, and electric chairs. Parents and children experiencing
similar emotions and feelings as I am. The nurse returns with our
information…it is time to say goodbye.
We return to the cabin and I give my daughter some last minute parental
overload advice. We hug and find myself hugging the counselors who
I just met an hour ago. They are the full guardians of my child
for two weeks…the parent duality is starting to kick in…. we have
a two-hour drive home!
Two days later…
|Campers enjoy horseback riding.
Photo courtesy Bradford Woods.
A letter comes from camp:
Today it is raining and so we are in the cabin writing letters,
coloring, and making friendship bracelets. I am giving mine to my
counselor Sarah because she is really nice. I went swimming today
in the pool, they put me in an inner tube and played relay games
in the pool. Sarah helped me get in the pool and stayed with me
the whole time. We also went horseback riding. Mom, I want to do
this when I get home…the horses are so cool! We got to brush the
horses, take care of them, and then we got to ride them. My horse
was named Casper. I was scared at first but Sarah helped me get
on. The food here is good mom but they don't let us have candy in
the cabins but we are having a cabin slumber party tonight and I
hear there will be birthday cake for Mary. Her bunk is next to mine.
Mary and I shared the bow we used for bow and arrows (archery).
I think Mary likes Joe who is in Beech cabin
Tomorrow we are going on a campout where we will be going through the
trails, putting up a tent, cooking our own food, and cooking s'mores!!
I can't wait! I also signed up to climb a tree Mom! I never climbed
a tree before Mom…I hope we don't get rained out!
|Campers at the archery field at Bradford Woods. Photo courtesy of Bradford Woods.
Well Mom I have to go…the sun is coming up and we are going to the beach
for a canoe ride. Sarah wants me to get ready. Tell Daddy I said
hi and Muffy too.
Two weeks later…
The two hour drive was filled with excitement to see my daughter again….
the drive into camp this time around was more familiar and a sense
of a home feeling overcame me. As we get out of our van, the counselors
are dressed in their blue cool t-shirts still singing with the same
energy they had on opening day…have you got that spirit…yeah
We enter the cabin, and my daughter and I embrace. She is fully packed
and ready to go. She looks good with a little bit of a tan and a
mosquito bite or two. She shows me all the arts and crafts she has
made and gives me one she made especially for me. The counselors
sit with us to evaluate the experience and they give me a descriptive
activity report listing all the activities she enjoyed during her
two weeks. Also, reports on any incidents were also indicated. Sarah
said she had a time or two of homesickness but that this is perfectly
normal for the first time camper. Next year she will be a veteran.
Participants enjoy a variety of
activities, such as swimming, during their summer camp experience.
Photos courtesy of Bradford Woods.
We checkout with the nurse at the welcome shelter to give us a health
report and return the medications. We give one more hug to Sarah
and we are on our way home.
The two-hour drive home was filled with two weeks of stories. I reflect
on the parent duality complex and am comforted by the next step
towards independence my daughter gained. I think I will research
horseback programs we can do together.
What to look for in camps
Searching for the best camp that meet the needs of your child is
critical. Here is a good checklist to follow:
- Visit the camp and talk with the Camp Director to discover the philosophy
of the camp especially if your child has a disability. What is
their approach in including all children in activities?
- Know the staff to camper ratio.
- Learn about the ways staff are trained and the policies that
guide their behavior. Understand the standards that the camp must
follow. Many camps are endorsed and certified by the American
Camping Association (www.acacamps.org).
The ACA annually publishes a parents guide to accredited camps….
a good place to start.
- What activities are offered? How will your child be included in those
activities? Assess the accessibility of facilities What type of
medical support is provided at camp?
- What are the appropriate ways to communicate to camp staff
to get progress reports on your child?
Camp residential experiences for children offer great opportunities
to strengthen social relationships, develop skills, and gain independent
experiences. To learn more about these camps consider the following
Bradford Woods Outdoor and Leadership Center
5020 State Road 67 North
Martinsville, IN 46151
(765) 342-2915 (voice or tty)
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