We’re A Midwest Camp!

As we approach the start of another camp season, we’ve been reflecting on what an exciting year this has been for us. Opening a second location of Camp Akeela has certainly been a lot of work, but it’s truly a labor of love. It is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling to be a part of our Vermont campers’ lives – and seeing the impact Akeela has on them and their families. The addition of Camp Akeela in Wisconsin means that we get to share the Akeela experience with even more children and teenagers.

One of our favorite parts of this past year is getting more familiar with the Midwest. Our year-round team consists of East and West Coasters (Debbie is from Philadelphia, Eric is from New York, Dave is from Vermont and Kevin is from California.) When we started Camp Akeela in 2007, we were already very familiar with New England: its camps, schools and population centers. Our first and most important task was to immerse ourselves in the Northeast’s communities of Asperger’s, NVLD, learning differences, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Now that we’re offering a shorter-session camp in Wisconsin, we are doing much of the same relationship building throughout the region, including Chicago and Detroit, Columbus and Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Madison, Minneapolis and St. Paul, and St. Louis. In addition to meeting many wonderful families, we’ve also gotten to know psychologists, educators, therapy providers, social skills groups leaders and other professionals. We love nothing more than connecting with like-minded people who adore “quirky” kids as much as we do!

This week is a particularly busy and fun-filled one for us. Dave Baker, one of our Midwest on-site directors, is currently attending the Autism Society of Wisconsin’s annual conference. If you’ll be in the Dells this week, please stop by to say hi to Dave at the conference exhibit hall! At the same time, Catricia Morris (a veteran counselor at our Vermont camp who will be helping to pioneer our Wisconsin location this summer) is attending the 22nd Annual Minnesota Autism Conference in Minneapolis. She will be in the exhibitor hall there and invites everyone at the conference to come meet her! Both Dave and Catricia are excited to see Temple Grandin, as she is a keynote speaker at both conferences.

On the afternoon of Saturday, April 29, Dave will also be hosting a Camp Akeela information session in Glencoe, Illinois. This is a chance for folks on the North Shore and elsewhere in the Chicago area to learn more about our camp. If you have a child or teenager who could benefit from expert social skills coaching in a fun, traditional camp environment, we invite you to attend this info-session. It’s low-key event at which campers and their parents can see lots of photos of Akeela, get a sense for a typical day at camp, and meet a director. For more information or details about how to join Dave on the North Shore on Saturday, please contact us at info@campakeela.com.


Tri State Camp Conference

 Tri State Camp ConferenceEach summer at camp, we consistently push our campers with Asperger’s Syndrome and High Function Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to try new things and to be open to learn something new. It’s such an important part of camp for them to step out of their comfort zone and take a leap of faith with the support of their counselors. This is what camp is all about, and why we see so much growth in our campers each summer.

 

It’s only fair then, that we challenge ourselves to try new things, and continue growing as camp professionals, too! As with every year, for three days in March, we took some time to do just that at the Tri-State Camp Conference in New Jersey. Camps from around the country (and world!) assembled together for the largest camp conference in the world all with one common goal, challenging ourselves to keep learning and making camp better for today’s youth. Every year, we walk away from the conference with new found motivation to bring new ideas to camp, and to do everything we can to make camp better. It’s amazing to be surrounded by so many professionals with the same passion for growing their programs.

 

A few highlights from this year:

  • Susan Cain, author of Quiet, gave the opening keynote address about how to harness the power of introverted people at camp. It was very thought provoking and challenged us to think about how we encourage and support our introverted campers and staff members.
  • We got some great new ideas on how to continually support our amazing staff, and give them even more tools to help our campers with Asperger’s Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) make meaningful peer connections.
  • Our very own assistant director Kevin was a member of Program Committee for the conference, and helped bring in many of the awesome speakers who provoked our minds! He also took an American Camp Association (ACA) Standards course, to continue our accreditation with the ACA. Did you know Camp Akeela is ACA accredited and what that means? Check out what accreditation means for your family here http://www.acacamps.org/staff-professionals/accreditation-standards/accreditation/about-aca-accreditation.

We’re proud to be part of an industry that is always learning and growing, and love sharing that passion with our amazing campers!


Winter 2017 Newsletter

The Winter 2017 edition of our newsletter, The Camp Akeela Circular, is here! Check it out for advice about how to prepare for camp, an introduction to our program heads and Akeela Vermont’s new head chef, updates on Akeela in Wisconsin, wedding news, lists of returning campers and staff, and the latest alumni profile!

Here is a note from Debbie and Eric, featured on the newsletter’s first page:

This newsletter represents an exciting “first” for Camp Akeela because it’s the first to be distributed to members of our TWO camp communities: Akeela in Vermont and Akeela in Wisconsin. In many ways, we will be two separate camps this summer. As you look through this newsletter, you’ll find some distinctions between our Vermont and Wisconsin locations. The dates differ; some of the facilities and program news apply to one site or the other; the camper and staff updates now include the abbreviations VT or WI. Most importantly, both Akeela locations (and in fact each session at both sites) will be its own rich, vibrant community. Regardless of where or when campers attend, they will feel a deep sense of belonging and kinship with their fellow campers and our amazing staff.

As excited as we are about replicating the magic of Akeela in an entirely new part of the country, we’re equally aware of the ways in which we’re all part of the same camp family. This phenomenon was evident last month at our third annual Winter Weekend Reunion. Because the weekend combined campers from the two different Akeela Vermont sessions, not everyone knew one another before the reunion. We could imagine a weekend that felt like two separate groups sharing the same space. In reality, however, it was amazing how quickly they came together into one unit. With a baseline shared experience of knowing what it’s like to have spent time at Camp Akeela, new friendships were forged almost instantly. A year from now, when we have campers and families who have experienced Akeela both at different times and in different states, we are confident that we will all feel equally connected.

Read the complete Winter 2017 Newsletter here!


Winter Weekend Recap

Our third annual Winter Weekend was a big hit! All of us are incredibly proud of how our campers represented Akeela throughout the weekend. It was so great to see our campers (and staff!) reconnecting with each other, and also building relationships with new friends! Campers enjoyed some favorite camp activities like Human Scavenger Hunt and the famed “Daraoke,” showed off their bowling prowess at a local bowling alley, and showed true Akeela spirit by donating food and winter clothing to a local community center! We’re already thinking about next year and can’t wait to get back. Check out some images from the weekend below.


Autism Spectrum Camp Staff: Part 2

Welcome Back and a Happy New Year to all!!

Part 2 of Autism Spectrum Camp Staff : Click to read part 1 

Most recently, we joined our colleagues at our annual CampGroup retreat. Approximately 80 of us spent three days in Western Massachusetts, learning and laughing together. There were over 25 educational sessions on topics such as staff interviewing & training, customer service, communications policies, programs for older campers and of course our number one priority: the physical and emotional safety of everyone in our camp communities. Ironically (as representatives of CampGroup’s least competitive camp!), Kevin and Eric organized the first-ever CampGroup Color War, a series of silly competitions that brought a lot of spirit and camaraderie to the retreat.

The longest and most in-depth session at the CampGroup retreat addressed the topic of LGBTQ campers and staff. We were very lucky to be joined by Jeff Perrotti, the founding director of the Massachusetts Department of Education’s Safe Schools Program for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Students. Jeff led us through a fantastic workshop about a very important subject. We are passionately dedicated to making sure that camps are welcoming communities to everyone. While there is always more to learn, we feel great about Akeela’s leadership in this area. As a camp for “quirky” kids, Akeela was founded on the principal of warmly embracing those who don’t always feel fully accepted by others; we’re proud to see how that welcoming spirit has extended to people from all backgrounds.

As camp professionals, we believe firmly that there is always room for improvement and growth. To that end, we feel very lucky to have a large network of some of the best professionals in the field with whom we continually learn. We love sharing our expertise and experiences with others and appreciate that they do the same for us. As we teach our campers to be open to new experiences and to learning from their peers, we recognize that need in ourselves as well.


Happy Holidays from Camp Akeela!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Akeela! We’ve put together our annual camper slideshows and hope you enjoy watching them. We enjoyed a walk down memory lane while looking through these pictures from our fantastic summer in 2016. Campers, remember to reach out to your friends you see in the slideshow!

Session 1

Session 2


Holidays – Autism Spectrum

Is It Really “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?”

Eric and I took our girls to see the “holiday spectacular” at the Comcast Center here in Philadelphia. It’s a really neat film that they project onto an enormous LED screen. The 15-minute show ends with a sing-a-long of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. As we were walking away, Eric turned to me and asked, “Is it”? For many families, the holidays are not easy. In fact, they are the most STRESSFUL times of the year! Holidays can sometimes mean arguments with family members who are impatient or “stuck” in traditions that don’t work for every person in the family. It can mean sitting and waiting in airports or train stations and experiencing what even the most patient and “zen” person finds unbearable – changes in plans and being out of control. Sitting at long meals where conversations may be boring to some or insulting to others. Many of us experience these struggles but for families that include individuals on the Autism Spectrum or who struggle socially or who have NLD, these are even more difficult.

While we hope your holidays are filled with lots of yummy food, quiet and relaxing time with family and friends and reflection of the many gifts in your life, we know that may not always be possible. Here are some suggestions for how to increase the likelihood that everyone is set up for more success:

• Preview any schedule changes in advance (at least a few days) and give the members of your family a printed schedule/itinerary….with the warning that sometimes things like traffic or weather force us to change plans.

• Try to stick to your normal routine as much as possible leading up to the holiday. For example, even when school is closed for a few days or weeks, try to keep wake-up, bed-time, and meal-times as close to schedule as possible.

• Maintain normal school-week expectations when possible as well. (e.g.: limiting screen time, household responsibilities….etc.)

• Make sure your child will find something familiar to eat at the holiday meal so that he knows he is valued and won’t be hungry. (This may mean bringing along a container of his favorite food.)

• Bring along a favorite game so that your child can invite other family members/friends to join in activity she feels confident playing.

• Bring along an activity your child can do in solitude in case he needs some down time or just wants some time away from the larger crowd.

• Take some deep breaths, listen to music – do whatever makes you feel calm and at your best and try to be ok when things don’t turn out as planned….they never do!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
-Debbie


Autism Spectrum Camp Staff: Part 1

Autism Spectrum Camp Directors:

When we tell people that we’re summer camp directors, one of the most common responses is to ask us, “What do you do the rest of the year?” They often have a hard time believing that our 7-week summer camp translates into a more-than-full-time job for 5 of us! Blayne and his team work at camp to maintain and upgrade our beautiful camp facilities. Each year, he has at least one large construction project (e.g. new camper cabins, the Lodge, the camp office) and a variety of smaller maintenance tasks that keep them very busy!

Meanwhile, Debbie, Eric, Kevin and Dave work in an office just outside Philadelphia. Together, we make sure that every summer at Akeela is the best it can be. That includes hiring the most incredible summer camp staff in the country – no small task given the size of our staff (over 100) and our extremely high standards (many inquiries and interviews for each available position). We also work hard to ensure that every camper who attends Akeela is a great fit. To that end, we spend many hours getting to know all prospective campers and their families, including speaking with three non family members for each applicant. Of course, there is also a lot of planning that goes into the camp program, from the traditional camp activities to trips and special events. This year, program planning is even more intense as we’re launching Camp Akeela in Wisconsin and totally revamping Beyond Akeela!

Another large component of our off-season time is dedicated to professional development. Camp directors are first and foremost educators and child development specialists. We’re also HR directors, supervisors and leaders who get to train and inspire staff members to profoundly change lives of the children. Moreover, we manage complex operations on large properties with food service, water supplies, environmental responsibilities and a host of other factors. The more we learn and share in these areas, the better we can be at delivering our mission: to provide our campers with the most incredible, life-changing summer experience on the planet. For that reason, all of us are actively engaged in attending, volunteering and even presenting at educational conferences organized by the American Camp Association (ACA).
In addition to our involvement in the ACA, we are very fortunate to work closely with approximately fifteen other sets of camp directors. Most of these camps are in the Northeast: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. A few are in the Midwest: Camp Akeela in Wisconsin and Lake of the Woods and Greenwoods Camps in Michigan. Together, we make up a family of camps called CampGroup. As an organization, we share core values of human development, excellence, building community and industry leadership. That manifests in a number of ways, including regular gatherings to support each others’ camps and share best practices.

Be sure to check back next week for part 2


Aspergers and Technology

Utilizing Modern Technology to Improve Self-Awareness and Self-Advocacy

I recently had the pleasure of attending a conference at Adelphi University on Long Island at which world renown clinical psychologist and Aspergers expert Dr. Tony Attwood presented on the topic of emotional regulation in children and early adolescents. Dr. Attwood covered a variety of topics from the psychological reaction to “being different” to having and dealing with various levels of anxiety.

Being a millennial who gets entranced by the all of the latest technology (have you seen the trailer for the Nintendo Switch?! It’s amazing! Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5uik5fgIaI), the topic that he discussed that caught my eye the most was the use of modern technologies to help children more easily recognize when they feel upset.
The Fitbit is an amazing tool that can not only help children and adults keep track of their health, such as how many steps they are taking or calories they are burning in a day, but newer Fitbits and other “smart watches” also have built in heartrate monitors that are amazingly useful towards improving self-awareness. For many of our campers, it is difficult for them to tell when they are getting upset, and incidents usually come about without much warning. One of the first and most basic warning signs of someone getting upset is the increase in heartrate, and with a piece of technological assistance like this one, children can check their heartrate right on their wrist to see if it is higher than it normally should be. This may indicate that they are beginning to feel upset, and they can advocate for themselves that they proactively need time to cool down. After some time, children may be able to recognize other warning signs their body is giving them that are paired with the increased heartrate – increased muscle tension, hot feeling in the neck or face, clenching of the jaw, etc. – and this feeling could become more recognizable and in turn easier to prevent.
For parents, one of the benefits of this technology is that it often comes with a smartphone app that tracks the data. If a child’s Fitbit is linked to a parent’s smartphone, the parent can monitor what times of day they see a drastic spike in heartrate. If a child’s heartrate continuously spikes around noon, it is likely that the child has some anxiety about the lunch room, or if the heartrate spikes during third period math class, that child might have some underlying issue with math that they cannot or have not yet verbalized to a parent. There is a classic scenario of a parent asking their child how their day at school went, only to get the blunt response of, “It was good.” By using this technology parents may be able to be more attune to difficulties at school which will in turn make the child’s school experience more positive.

Dr. Attwood has been the keynote speaker at events around the world and he has authored or co-authored multiple books and articles about Aspergers. Visit http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/ for more information.


Fall 2016 Newsletter

Fall is here and that means that it’s time for our fall newsletter! This jam-packed edition of the Akeela Circular includes:

  • News from the Directors
    A letter from Debbie & Eric, addressing their excitement about the opening of Camp Akeela in Wisconsin!
  • Blayne’s Bulletin
    A site update from Blayne, including a very exciting photo of Bunk 4’s new porch! That’s not the only cabin getting a new porch, either. There’s also some news and a picture of a well-known building in camp being demolished. (It will be replaced before next summer!)
  • Kev’s Korner
    A note from assistant director Kevin Trimble, reflecting on the concept of growth, both personal and professional. He highlights how Akeela has been able to grow while staying true to who we are as a community.
  • Wedding Bells
    Thanks to Greg and Julia’s pre-camp engagement this past June, planning for Camp Akeela marriage number 6 is now underway.
  • POISE-a-Thon Results
    We are so proud of the Akeela campers for their participation in this past summer’s POISE-a-Thons. Between the two sessions, their enthusiastic efforts raised more than $18,000 for a great charitable cause!
  • Winter Weekend & Parent Retreat Announcement
    Information about the third annual Winter Weekend reunion in Western Massachusetts, in late January 2017. At the same time, we’ll be hosting a parent & family retreat at the Cranwell Resort in Lenox, MA.
  • Camper and Staff Updates
    Lots of news from campers and staff about what they’ve been up to this fall, which of their camp friends they’ve seen, and much more.
  • Alumni Spotlight!
    A new feature in which we catch up with a former camper. This time, a distinguished alumnus of Camp Akeela and Beyond Akeela shares some wisdom about his experience in college and how camp helped him prepare for it.
  • Birthdays
    A list of upcoming camper and staff birthdays

Read it all here:

Akeela Circular, Fall 2016