Photos Courtesy of Camp CAMP
For the past several years we have been hearing that special needs camps comprise the fastest growing sector in camping in North America. I believe this growth has occurred due to a variety of underlying catalysts. First, advances in care and treatment for individuals with special needs has improved significantly over the past several decades, creating a “healthier” population of individuals who still face some sort of challenges in their daily lives. Second, greater awareness and education about people with special needs has led to greater acceptance by the general population. Don’t get me wrong – there is still a lot of work to do in this domain, but we have come leaps and bounds from where we were even 30 years ago. Third, I believe these other underlying factors have had a synergistic effect that has led very passionate people to seek and provide opportunities for individuals with special needs to experience some of the same programs and activities that their less challenged peers enjoy.
With this growing sector of special needs camps has also come growth in the way we train our staff and volunteers to work with these special populations. As improved abilities, greater acceptance, and broader opportunities are offered to individuals with special needs, more and more of these campers are finding homes at other, more traditional camps as well. Because of this, there is a greater need to provide specific, yet more broadly disseminated, training to all camp personnel, regardless of the focus of each camp. We share a lot more common ground among all the different types of camps than many people realize.
The organization I work for has summer and school-year programs specifically designed to help people with special needs reach their “maximum potential.” (The name of our organization is Children’s Association for Maximum Potential, or “CAMP.”) In addition, we accept teenage volunteers to work 1:1 with our CAMPers who have special needs, provide them with initial training and orientation, but then also provide ongoing coaching and mentoring during their service at Camp CAMP. This unique opportunity is a youth development program in and of itself, helping to build character and compassion, as well as personal and professional skills that we hope will be carried back into the real world, and carried on for the rest of these young volunteers’ lives. I often say that “CAMP is not the real world, but if the real world were more like CAMP, the real world would be a much better place.” Thanks to you for all you do through your camps and programs to help make the world a better place too!
Brandon G. Briery, Ph.D.
Executive Camping Director
Children’s Association for Maximum Potential (CAMP)