Camp HOPE Provides Opportunities for Campers with Special Needs Featured
Written by By Lori Ziegler Friday, 24 January 2014 01:31
Camp HOPE Provides Opportunities for Campers with Special Needs
By Lori Ziegler
It was a week of discovery. Camp is a week where bonds are built and hearts change in ways that are downright miraculous. First time campers and parents alike often approach the experience with mixed feelings. Is my child ready for this? Will my child make friends? Will I fit in? The difference at Camp HOPE last summer was that for the first time the camp was open to special needs children. The week was filled with unexpected blessings and lessons for all involved.
To get a taste of what Camp HOPE was like, let’s take a look at the experience of one camper:
The first day Jerome tried on the helmet at the zip line but had to immediately take it off. He just didn’t like the feel of it on his head. Later that day he tried to get into the harness, but again decided he just didn’t want that thing on his body. Instead of giving up though, something in Jerome kept pushing him to try again.
The next morning he let his mentor know he wanted to go to the platform again. This time he was able to put on the helmet and the harness and climb the ladder. As the staff member held tight, he looked longingly over the edge, wanting so badly to go down the zip line, but unable to find the courage to take flight. He came back down.
Meanwhile, word kept floating around camp that Jerome, a 13-year-old non-verbal autistic camper really wanted to go down the zip line and kept trying but just couldn’t make himself follow through. With every attempt, more and more of the camp and staff left their activities and gathered to encourage Jerome and see what would happen. They clapped and encouraged every step forward that he made.
In the afternoon of the second day, Jerome allowed the staff members to put on the helmet and harness. He climbed the ladder, looked over the edge and decided that this time he could follow through. He was brave enough to take the leap! Camp director Cathy Rosenquist said it was the gentleness and patience of the camp staff and Jerome’s mentors that helped him find the courage he needed. Once he went down, there was no stopping Jerome. He went down that zip line over and over again! It proved to be his favorite activity every day for the rest of the week!
Every camper that attended Camp HOPE last summer experienced similar victories. Shannon’s mom sent in these remarks about the week: “Shannon and I had an incredible experience. (She) was able to be herself without any fears of not fitting in. She participated in activities she never would have tried. I am so grateful that camp helped Shannon blossom and that it allowed me to let go.”
Learning to let go was a common theme for the parents of the campers. This week was the first time Jerome had spent apart from his parents. Jerome’s mom said that he had a “fantastic time” and that she and her husband “now know that we can let Jerome go and have fun with his peers and he will be alright. Actually, better than alright.”
Each camper at Camp HOPE was accompanied for the week by an adult caregiver or parent. Campers were also partnered with volunteer mentors from the HOPE Youth Corps Girls Corp and supervised by trained camp staff members. While the campers enjoyed their chosen activities for the day the caregivers/parents had precious “time off” to spend with each other and to get their own needs met.
Camp HOPE was such a success that in 2014 it will again be hosted at Camp Hope For Kids in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, about an hour outside of Philadelphia. From August 3-8 campers with special needs (ages 8-15) will gather to build friendships, try new activities, participate in a shaving cream fight and have fun-filled Bible devotionals every day.
Published in Special Needs