A story of inclusion from a Camp Counselor:
When Matthew was dropped off for his first day of camp I could tell right away that only one of the two of us was excited for him to be there; me. He sat on the ground after Mom left, not wanting to join the other campers in the pledge, just simply wanting to “go back home.” The plan for the day was to go to the zoo, to which Matthew seemed impartial. We had a group to walk with, but staying with them didn’t last long, so our group trip to the zoo quickly became a Matthew race around the zoo as I frantically tried to keep pace.
Day two was a normal camp day filled with peer activities, crafts, and games. It took a lot of coaxing to keep Matthew with thegroup, but he did not want to socialize with the other campers. At the end of day two I met with the other counselors to talk about different strategies we could implement in order to keep Matthew actively engaged and included in any and all activities. Thankfully, due to the training we received from the National Inclusion Project, we were able to come up with solutions to different situations for all of our campers, not just Matthew.
Day three was another zoo trip. This time I talked with Matthew about staying with our group before hand, then I saw it-the wagon rentals. I rented a red wagon and asked Matthew if he would like to ride in it and boy did he ever. As soon as the other kids saw Matthew riding in it all they wanted to do was pull him around like he we in a horse drawn carriage and he loved it! Every time the group stopped to look at a different animal they would help Matthew out of the wagon, talk and play, then help him back in the wagon and move on to the next.
The whole day was smooth sailing, or wagon-ing in this case. On the bus ride home Matthew sat with two boys that he made friends with that day, and stayed friends with the rest of the summer. The counselors and I passed out trophies to campers who did great things during the day (helped a friend, followed directions, best attitude, etc.), and the last trophy we awarded was to Matthew for “making so many new friends.” Matthew’s face lit up like a rocket, his blue eyes shining with a huge smile across his face, and all the children on the bus literally hooted and hollered for him! The rest of the bus ride home Matthew was “the man” to talk to and each day after that, Matthew just simply wanted to “stay at camp.”
The impact that the National Inclusion Project had on the other counselors and myself made all the difference to the camp experience for not just Matthew, but for all of our campers. As counselors, we were able to devise strategies and find ways to include all of our campers, not just those with disabilities, but it would not have been possible without the training we received. Making a difference to the camp experience for our campers made a difference in our camp experience as counselors. The job was incredibly rewarding and made my summer one I will never forget; I actually enjoyed going to work every day, scratch that, every morning, and I hate mornings!
Thank you so much for allowing all of our counselors and campers to have this opportunity! We are forever grateful!
*Names and pictures were changed for privacy