I was talking to someone today, who said that camp was the only place she ever felt she belonged. It reminded me of just how much of a positive experience going to summer camp for kids with disabilities was for me. I went to camp each summer from ages thirteen to fifteen.
It was one week during each of those years when I felt like I belonged. (This is one of the few pictures there are of me at camp - because I was always the one taking the pictures - at the beginning of my last week there, at fifteen.) That smile says everything.
I got to hang out with friends who knew what it was like to be like me. Who used wheelchairs and crutches and walkers. And someplace where that just didn't matter, because we were all just there to have a great time. I didn't know that in seven years' time I would get a job as a camp counselor (at a different camp) but I think my experience as a camper really influenced my decision.
We had such a competent staff, made up of people from all around the world. I had a counselor from Holland, and one from New Zealand and one from Australia. They were energetic and positive and available at ALL hours of the night if a camper needed something. Not one of them shamed any one of us about anything related to our disabilities.
It was fantastic. We had dance parties and camped outdoors for a night. We horseback rode and went swimming. We did arts and crafts and went boating. We had dinner at breakfast. Made up our own cabin cheer. (I still remember the latest one, to this day.) We made our own homemade pizza. We listened to CDs and talked and wrote letters. We used computers (at the dawn of the internet) and found books in the rec building.
It was so, so positive. A real ray of light when I look back at it, for sure.
I'd definitely recommend this experience to any kid with a disability. Parents, if you have the means, chances are, your child will have a fabulous time. They'll never forget it. Or the people they met.