Editor’s Note: Ken Glotzer is the author of “There Is No Place Like Camp: A Camp Director’s Guide For Parents.” He is the longtime director of Day Camp In The Park in Harriman State Park, NY. The following anecdotes were excerpted from his book.
Although my camp is not geared to children with special physical needs, one summer I accepted a handicapped boy whom I thought might benefit from our camp. Luke could barely walk and he spoke very little. Yet he had the most profound influence on my campers and staff. Luke had cerebral palsy, and he had many physical limitations. At first, we tried to have him travel with his age group. But our five-hundred-acre nature preserve camp proved to be very inhospitable for him. So we changed our game plan. We decided to place him at various specialty activities throughout the day—one period at art, one period at nature, drama, swimming, boating, etc.
Luke would get to know our campers and staff through these various specialties. In time, our campers learned to respect him for his courageous attempts to try new things. Though it was very difficult for him to enter the boating area, through perseverance and assistance from my staff, he did and was able to try new activities that he was never able to do before. The art teacher ordered a special type of clay so Luke could improve his fine motor skills by building a beautiful art clay mold. Luke learned that there are many wonderful people willing to help him conquer his physical limitations. We all won and learned from each other. There is no lesson more important to learn in life than knowing that we exist to help each other succeed and that we are better people by living this code of ethics.
Out of the mouth of babes…
Working with nursery school children, one should always be ready to laugh and realize that little children have a very unique way of looking at the world. The counselors and campers were cleaning out a bunk. One of the counselors found a pair of size 6, snow white underwear pants. The counselor asked, “Whose underwear is this?” No one responded. He asked again and still there was no response. Finally, the senior counselor said in great frustration, “It didn’t just fall from the sky.” One camper looked up and said, “Hmm…maybe it is God’s underwear.”
Success can be found in many ways with young children…
There was a little boy (Marc) who was convinced that he could not dress himself. Each day he told his counselor, “I am too little and I cannot do it.” When his mother came up on visiting day, she was observing her child trying to get dressed. Impatient to get to the barbeque that we have every year for our camp families, she said to him, “Oh, just let me do it.You are too little to do it.” However, by the end of the summer, Marc had learned to dress himself, and he was extremely proud of himself! He was able to see that there were plenty of other children his size who could dress themselves. This was a good lesson for mommy too.
He never knew he would become a great counselor . . .
He was a very shy, reticent young man who wanted to be a CIT (Counselor in Training). His foster mom had heard some good things about how our camp helped young teenagers to become responsible, authentic young adults. She knew that her foster son could thrive in a supportive environment and he needed a positive experience in his life to help him persevere. His foster mom had shared with me that Tyrone’s dad died very young, and that his mom had numerous medical ailments. In addition, Tyrone had his own medical issues and had never succeeded in a group dynamic situation before. The main problem for me was that Tyrone had no prior camp experience and starting camp at age 14 was very late. However, I knew that I had to give him a serious interview and the main purpose of camp was to help children—all children.
One could easily see that Tyrone was a very easy-going, sensitive, caring young man. He really liked to skateboard so I thought of possibly putting him at the skateboard park. I asked him what he thought the major responsibility of a CIT would be at the skateboard park, his adult response startled me. He said, “Help the campers overcome their fears by letting them know that I would be there to support them whenever they tried to learn a new move.”
We took him into our program, and for the next two years he progressed nicely and was ready to assume a paid position. Even though his physical ailments plagued him (one summer he needed a spinal fusion), he was always helpful, caring and sensitive to meeting the needs of our campers and they grew to love him. He had the gift of being able to develop an almost innate trust with young campers. He knew their initial fears in trying to master a new move on the skateboard but his easy-going and relaxed demeanor (without many words being spoken) soothed their fears and gained their trust. Furthermore, he learned from senior staff members the importance of using positive reinforcement techniques. In a short period of time he became a consummate skateboard instructor with a loyal following!
Young children always respond best to authentic, sensitive, caring individuals. Even though Tyrone had a traumatic childhood, he recognized that helping others was crucial to his own well-being, growth and maturation.
Now is the time for your family to choose a camp and begin to write and experience your own wonderful stories! Good luck…