Saturday, April 9, 2011

Summer Camps for People with Disabilities in Massachusetts and Beyond

Camp Arrowhead buddies in the waters of Lake Cochituate.
Photo by Ken McGagh, MetroWest Daily News Staff.
I've been hearing about summer camps for kids with disabilities in Massachusetts and decided to investigate further. Turns out many camps have been around for over 50 years and have well-established communities. It is truly inspirational to scan through their websites. I offer a few descriptions here as a sample of the possibilities.

Camp Arrowhead on the shores of Lake Cochituate (just outside Boston) is sponsored by the Town of Natick Recreation and Parks Department. The day camp serves both kids (age 5 and older) and adults with a wide range of disabilities from late June through mid August. A one week trip to Lion's Pride Camp in Durham, NH offers a residential experience later in August. Camp Arrowhead is open to Natick residents with some spaces available to non-residents. Each camper is paired with a teen companion in what appears to be a very successful community-based support system.
Camp Jabberwocky is a small residential vacation camp for kids and adults on Martha's Vineyard, that originally began as an opportunity for kids with cerebral palsy and has since expanded its audience, serving about 100 campers each year. Activities include dance, community plays, jet-skiing and para sailing, with occasional visitations by island celebrities. Campers and staff are profoundly dedicated.
The Bridge Center offers several summer day camp experiences in southeastern Massachusetts, specifically oriented towards campers with autism spectrum disorders, learning and cognitive disabilities, and behavioral issues. Campers are organized into small groups based on disability similarities and engage in both traditional and therapeutic recreation activities including swimming, archery, horseback riding, and a low ropes course.
Camp Howe in Goshen is over 80 years strong and offers a full range of traditional day, overnight and weekly camp activities on a waterfront with a farm experience adjacent to the D.A.R. State Forest. This is an inclusive camping experience. A program called ECHO works with campers with disabilities separately and mixed in with general campers. Camp Howe is dedicated to cultivating understanding and appreciation of individual differences.

Accessible tree house at the Fowler Center.
I could go on and on! There are many more camps and quite a few specialize in particular individual circumstances such as diabetes or limb differences. If you are seeking information about summer camps this year, link into a one-stop resource on the New England Index website. If you have a camp to recommend here, feel free to comment!

I confess I have unabashedly borrowed these photos in order to help promote the summer camp opportunity for people with disabilities. I also cannot complete this post without mentioning the Fowler Center in Michigan as further inspiration - a unique facility lovingly created by a visionary individual with cerebral palsy that offers an accessible tree house and a camp for kids on ventilators (with medical doctors from the University of Michigan as dedicated staff). Perhaps we have an equal here in New England - my research ends without revealing this possibility.


Phil Dzialo said...

Also, any parent remotely considering a camp for a regular or special needs child should insure that it is licensed by the local board of health (in accord with all DPH regulations) and that it is accredited by the ACA (American Camping Assn.) Licensing and accreditation assure that all safety concerns and emergency procedures are in place and verified.

Marcy Marchello said...

Very important point! Thanks Phil! This is really good information. Anyone researching summer camp possibilities should be sure to check camp credentials and safety standards before signing up.

Kids summer camp said...

Really nice post. Your information is good. i really like this post. thank you for sharing...............

Anonymous said...

that tree house looks awesome! hope to visit it some day.

Science Camp said...

Sounds wonderful! I believe it is important that every kid have access to camping and is exposed to our wildlife - disabled or not. The fact that the camp accepts special people under their care would give any parent peace of mind to leave their kids under the camp's care.

Phil Dzialo said...

@science camp. The fact that a camp accepts special people under their absolutely meaningless and no assurance of safety. By special people, I only assume the writer refers to medically complex or severely disabled kids. As the parent of a severely disabled kid who nearly died at a camp, your assumptions border on ludicruous.

Accepting "special people"is a term I find offensive; severely disabled and medically complex describes reality. To accept my kid, the camp better have a doctor on staff, a suctioning machine, nebulizer, toileting protocols, and access to a medical facility, a one-to-one aide...on and on. To describe him as a special person betrays the enormity of his disability.
Accepting special people is a meaningless term...caring for mild ADHD or Aspergers is not like caring for a spastic quad with a trach and g-tube.

To re-iterate, camps who accept special persons, whatever the hell that means is a guarantee of nothing and certainly would give me NO peace mind...only an very indepth examination of providers, facilities and protocols could make a parent feel somewhat safe.

Devasted in Mass said...

I believe and support Phil Dzialo, Science Camp needs a wake-up call. As a parent of a disabled child who was sexually molested for a whole summer at a Camp for Disabled Kids can tell you....not all camps are safe and regulated....the mere fact that I found out my child was taken away on several occasions to a remote brook down a dirt trail to be molested with the one-on-one counselor assigned to him....tells a whole different story!!! When the Directors were questioned about that practice, no one had an explanation or an answer!!!!!

Marcy Marchello said...

Sorry to hear of your horrific experience.

It is terribly sad and awful to know that some children have suffered serious traumas in the context of camp experiences. I sincerely wish it weren't so. I don't have experience running summer camps - only meant to share that the resources are out there - and I'd like to believe that far more people have positive experiences than not. Still some pay a tragic price, for which I would like to know what camp administrators really have to say. What efforts are out there to address the realities of abuse and mismanagement and make camps safe for everyone?

I can only hope that all camps are ethical and well run and that staff are screened for criminal records prior to hiring. We do this even for our day programs (we don't run summer camps) yet it is no guarantee of future good behavior since someone without a criminal record could potentially take a wrong turn. That is why it is essential that camp administrators do annual criminal checks on their staff. It is also vital that parents/guardians thoroughly check out a camp before sending their loved one(s) off.

If anyone has more information feel free to share here!