We can all fondly remember our summer camp experiences, exploring the outdoors and making memories. Summer camp, a place of adventure, excitement, and growth, is on the agenda for many children with and without disabilities this summer, and there are a multitude of options when it comes to choosing the perfect camp for you or your child.
United Cerebral Palsy’s affiliates around the country offer many different summer camp experiences. United Cerebral Palsy of Mobile’s Camp Smile, one of a handful of camps open to campers regardless of the severity of their disability or their financial means, is a camp exclusively for individuals with disabilities and their siblings. Glenn Harger, President and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy of Mobile, notes that Camp Smile “adapts to a child’s needs, instead of asking children to adapt to the camp.” United Cerebral Palsy of Delaware similarly invites children with and without a variety of disabilities to their two stellar day camps, Camp Lenape and Camp Manito. These camps foster friendships and make it possible for siblings to attend the same camp as children with disabilities. The camps, founded on the idea that children with disabilities are kids first, seek to create an inclusive environment for all children.
Camps Smile, Lenape, and Manito, in addition to many others, offer accessible grounds, dietary adjustments, and a greater proportion of camp counselors to campers than traditional camps. For example, Camp Smile makes accessibility a priority with its wheelchair accessible pathways, air conditioned log cabins and multi-purpose buildings, as well as an accessible bath house, among other amenities. Many camps across the nation specialize in specific services for children with disabilities. Some camps offer on-site speech and occupational therapy, teach campers how to ride bikes, focus on art therapy, or specialize in helping children succeed academically. Camps Lenape and Manito offer accessible swimming, with in-pool ramps to accommodate campers of all abilities and plenty of volunteers to help.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of camps which focus on disability is the lasting impact they can have on campers. Glenn recalled a young girl, around the age of four, and the evidence of her growth: “She just never smiled. The counselors put her on a horse and she had the biggest grin on her face.” Research supports the notion that children can benefit significantly from summer camps. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Play found that camps can have positive cognitive, social, and identity effects on campers by combining skill improvement with fun and social activities.
Bill McCool, the Executive Director of United Cerebral Palsy of Delaware, fondly remembers the story of one young camper who had behavioral challenges, but for whom camp had a meaningful impact. The camper returned to UCP of Delaware when he was an adult, completely changed and matured, and applied to be an employee at the camp to help other young children benefit from the summer camp that had changed his life. Moved by this experience, McCool explained: “It means an awful lot when you see your campers become adults and you see who they become, at least in part because of the camp. That’s true for kids with disabilities, children without, and our volunteers. And many of them want to come back here!”
It’s no surprise that campers and volunteers alike look forward to returning to summer camps. At Camp Smile, campers can participate in zip lining, a ropes course, horseback riding, archery, swimming, fishing, and many more fun activities. The camp’s mission? To empower children and adults with disabilities to lead a life without limits.
Wondering if there is a UCP camp near you? Below is a partial list of United Cerebral Palsy affiliates that offer camp experiences.
ADAPT Community Network (New York City)
Easter Seals UCP (North Carolina and Virginia)
UCP Central Minnesota
UCP Heartland (Missouri)
UCP of Hudson County (New Jersey)
UCP Land of Lincoln (Illinois)
UCP of West Alabama
This post was written by Sara Shemali, Summer 2017 Programs and Development Intern at UCP National.