Why Camp is Important for Teens Too.

Why Camp is still Important for High School Students

I recently had a conversation with a long-time Camp Akeela parent.  She was wondering whether or not camp was still an appropriate summer option for her 10th grader.  After many years at Akeela, she wondered if it was time to move on. So to encourage her son to get a job or to take summer classes.  She is certainly not alone in asking these questions.  As parents, many of us constantly worry if we’re making the right choices for our children.  Are we pushing them enough?  Are we pushing too hard?  And how much should we push during the summer?  Many parents wonder if their kids need some down time. And others worry that too much unstructured time leads to feeling depressed or lonely or even more anxious.

The transition phase for important life skill

As camp directors, it’s probably obvious that we believe that for most kids, camp is an amazing opportunity for our older teens.   For our long-time campers, one final summer as “the oldest”, is like a graduation year.  They benefit from feeling like they are the leaders in the community. That they have knowledge and wisdom about life that they can share with their younger peers.  It also enables them to learn how to transition away from childhood.  So many of our oldest campers struggle with saying goodbye. Either avoiding it all-together or becoming so emotional that it overwhelms other people.  Having a final summer at camp with peers who are going through the same transition is an opportunity to teach them. This very important life skill which will continue to come up as they begin new experiences and then have to leave them (college, jobs, relationships…etc.).

Camp Akeela Experience

We also believe that there is an important arc to the Akeela experience.  One where campers build upon skills they’ve developed in other years at Akeela.  In their oldest years at camp, our teens get more choice in their activity. More freedom to be in camp with less direct (obvious) supervision and opportunities to lead activities. And also to be role-models for younger campers.

After 9th and 10th grades, our campers participate in our “Teen Time” program where they can choose to participate in writing and performing Camp News. Or STEM projects (robotics and building an escape room) and community leadership (planning and running a camp activity and working closely with a younger bunk of campers).  In addition, our oldest teens benefit from guided conversations around topics that are particularly salient to that age group such as romantic relationships, appropriate use of social media and technology and wellness (mental health, hygiene, sleep and nutrition).

Finally, camp is fun.  While of course we believe there is value to learning how important it is to work hard and to earn money. We also think that finding opportunities for our campers to really connect with peers in a meaningful way. To feel totally accepted and to be a part of a community where they are valued is just not something that can be undervalued.  As our campers prepare for life beyond high school, we want them to head in to that next phase of their lives. On feeling secure in who they are.  We believe camp allows them to do that.


Helping our Campers Stay Connected

Social Skills Camp Boston: Staying connected to your camper!

One of the most important outcomes of a summer session at Camp Akeela is that our campers find “their people”.  They make their closest and most meaningful relationships at camp.  We often hear from parents that they are disappointed that those relationships don’t continue once campers return home.  We truly believe that this is not due to a lack of desire but because our campers often find themselves in a mindset of “out of sight, out of mind”.  It takes work to keep in touch with people and our campers sometimes prefer the easier route.  They will happily hang out with friends if someone puts them in a situation where that can happen, but they won’t go out of their way to plan a get together or even to send an email.

 

How can you help?
  • Help your camper remember WHY friends at camp were so special and remind them of why it’s worth the effort to continue those relationships: Encourage your camper to talk about his/her friends from this summer.  Ask them to share stories with you about fun things they did together. What did he/she like about those friends?  What was so special about them.

 

  • Look at a calendar with your camper. Are there dates/times when you might be free to host a gathering of a friend or two?  If friends live far away, are there dates/times when you can help coordinate a skype or Facetime “meeting”?

 

  • Help your camper draft an email to a few friends to get a conversation going and encourage them to include a few questions so that their friends have a reason to reply and a conversation starter!

 

  • Invite Akeela friends to important events including birthday celebrations! We have so many pictures sent to us of friends who’ve traveled far and wide to be at a birthday party, bar-mitzvah or prom!  (They are our favorites!)

 

  • As parents, get to know your child’s camp friend’s parents as well! Some wonderful family friendships have been formed over the years.  It’s wonderful to have family gatherings and is a great way to get the kids together without too much social pressure!

 

  • Keep trying. If your child doesn’t seem interested at first in connecting with camp friends, don’t give up!  Perhaps, in a month or even two, he/she will be ready to make the effort to connect.  Be patient – this is not easy for anyone and is especially challenging for our campers!  We promise it’s worth the effort!

Reflections on Summer 2018

Asperger’s teens Summer Trips

Asperger’s teens summer tripsThe fall is always a bitter-sweet time for us as camp directors.  On the one hand, there is a sense of relief to be settled back into our lives at home. And having our own daughters situated with new teachers at school and to be able to plan and cook our own meals!  On the other hand, there’s always a sadness and loneliness that we feel as well.  We work with an amazing team at camp and love sharing ideas with them.  Also we love being a part of a larger community – of walking into breakfast and seeing 200 smiling faces, having fun conversations with campers all day. And also hearing about all of their successes and helping them through struggles.

We know that our family’s experience of post-camp adjustment. This is one your camper may also have felt or still be feeling.  It’s not easy to come home from camp after such an intense (and exhausting) experience. Then jump right back into home-life.  And even for campers who were well established back at home. Starting a new school year can bring up a whole new set of worries around academic work, new teachers, new routines and new peers.

Please let us know if there’s anything we might be able to do to help. For camper adapt to these many changes.  We always find that the more routinized our campers days are. The more we can prepare and preview with our campers, the less anxious they become.  We would love to see you help your child stay connected with his/her camp friends.  You will likely have to give a big “push” to make this happen. It includes sitting down to help him/her write an email or send a text.

Time has gone by so quickly

Every summer, there are a few moments that stick with me and make me feel proud or cause me to laugh out loud (or both)!  This year is no different and as I sit at my desk now, I’m reminded of two of those moments.  One was when I said goodbye to some of our 11th grade campers who will be moving on to Beyond Akeela next summer.  A few of them have been campers for over 5 summers, which means that Eric and I have watched them grow up.  They are now tall, confident, kind, bright young men and women.

As I hugged them goodbye and told them how proud I was to know them. I was struck with how lucky I feel to be able to witness so much growth over 3 and a half weeks every summer.  The other moment this summer was watching the talent show. And seeing how much pride and joy our campers experience not only when they are performing on stage. But when they are in the audience, cheering for their friends.  These are the types of memories that I hold on to when we’re away from Miller Pond!

 

-Debbie


Akeela Vermont Spring Newsletter

The latest Camp Akeela (VT) newsletter, the Akeela Circular, is here!

This jam-packed newsletter includes a lot of important information for camp parents, introductions to our amazing team of program heads, details on communication from camp, and much more. Here’s a quick look at one article, What To Expect On The First Day of Camp.

Dear Akeela Camper,

Summer is almost here and we hope you are excited about camp, even if you’re also feeling a little nervous about it. Many kids go away for part of the summer. Some visit family, some go on teen travel or community service programs, and some go to sleep-away camps. Almost everybody worries about how they will like a place that’s new to them. It’s OK to feel that way and we’re here to help make your transition to camp as easy and smooth as possible. We think that one way to do that is to help you know what to expect…

If you’re taking one of the camp buses to camp, you and your parents will meet some of our counselors at the bus pick-up location. They will be there to welcome you and to introduce you to other campers. They will help you find a seat on the bus with a new friend and will be there to answer any questions you might have. The travel time from NY is approximately 5 hours and the time from Boston is approximately 2.5 hours. You will bring lunch on the bus and there are bathrooms on both buses!

Those of you flying to Boston on Opening Day will be met at the airport by Akeela staff members. They will be there to greet you and to introduce you to other campers who have also flown in! You and your new friends will be driven by our staff in a camp van directly to camp. It will take approximately 2.5 hours to get to Akeela. If your parents are driving you to camp, you will be dropped off at 2:00. Your counselors will be there to meet you at your car and help you carry any last-minute items you have brought with you that day. You, your parents, and counselors will go to your cabin, where you’ll see all of your belongings have been unpacked and organized for you so you can easily find your bed. You’ll then say goodbye to your family and begin your camp adventure!

Regardless of how you get to camp, here’s what you can expect to happen the rest of that first day:

  • You will have a chance to see what camp looks like and enjoy some planned activities with your bunkmates. You might take a tour, play some games, or jump on the jumping pillow.
  • You’ll also meet our nurses so that they can give you a quick “health check” to make sure you’re healthy!
  • Our great Chef, Catarina, will give you a small preview of her culinary expertise and provide a delicious snack for you and your new friends to enjoy.
  • There will be some time after everyone arrives for each bunk to start spending some time together before we meet for dinner. This is a great time to get to know your bunkmates and counselors, and talk about “bunk expectations,” so you know what to expect from each other.
  • We will all have dinner and Evening Meeting together as a community. You’ll eat dinner with your cabin, just like you will for all your meals at camp! Evening Meeting will be at the amphitheatre and you’ll get to hear from Eric and Debbie, and have a chance to make announcements about the new friends you’ve already made!
  • Then it will be time for our opening campfire and evening snack. We’ll sing songs and do skits as a community by the fire. It’s one of our favorite parts of camp!
  • Before bedtime, you will preview the next day’s schedule and then Debbie or Eric and your Head Counselor will stop by to say good night. Before you know it, your first day will be over and we will all be getting ready for bed!

Many campers worry that they might be sad or homesick on the first night of camp. That is very normal. All of your counselors will be right in your bunk with you to help you. In addition to talking to them, you might want to look at photos from home, write a letter to your family or read a book. We know that after a short time, you will be having such a great time at Akeela, it will feel like your second home.

We can’t wait to see you at camp. Many of you will be joining us for our Open House on June 17th. (RSVP HERE) If you’re not able to attend Open House, you’ll be able to see photos of the event on the camp website. We’re so excited for an amazing summer at Camp Akeela. See you soon!

 

Check out the entire newsletter here!

 


Akeela Wisconsin Winter Newsletter

The latest Camp Akeela (WI) newsletter, the Akeela Circular, is here!

In this edition:

  • A letter from Dave and Katie, looking back on the foundation of Camp Akeela in Wisconsin and how much its grown since this time last year! Also, touching on some highlights from our camper reunion.
  • A checklist to help campers and parents prepare for camp, starting with some advice for this winter and taking you right through the weeks leading up to your arrival at camp.
  • A sneak peek into some of our new programming and optional off-campus trips we are offering this summer.
  • Information for parents about the ways we partner with them throughout the summer. We also share details about what to expect from our end-of-summer camper reports.
  • Introductions to some of our fantastic members of the senior staff. Check out their photos and bios, including their favorite camp food!
  • Lists of upcoming camper and staff birthdays, as well as which campers are coming back!
  • A can’t-miss profile of an impressive Akeela alumnus, Nolan D. He catches us up on what he’s been doing since his camper days, including his passion for working in the video game industry.

 

Read the newsletter here!

Wisconsin Camp Winter Newsletter


Akeela Vermont Winter Newsletter

The latest Camp Akeela (VT) newsletter, the Akeela Circular, is here!

In this edition:

  • A letter from Debbie and Eric, looking back on the Winter Weekend camper reunion and looking forward to our upcoming alumni reunion in honor of 10 years of Akeela!
  • A checklist to help campers and parents prepare for camp, starting with some advice for this winter and taking you right through the weeks leading up to your arrival at camp.
  • A little teaser about some exciting new programming we’re introducing this summer for our oldest campers. 9th and 10th grade teens have some great stuff to look forward to!
  • Kevin’s look back at another fantastic Winter Weekend, which was attended by 53 campers and 18 staff members.
  • Information for parents about the ways we partner with them throughout the summer. We also share details about what to expect from our end-of-summer camper reports.
  • Another Akeela wedding! David Leach and Amanda Perry tied the knot in Manchester, England earlier this winter.
  • Introductions to our incredible team of head counselors. Check out their photos and bios, including their favorite camp food!
  • Lists of upcoming birthdays, returning campers and returning staff.
  • The first edition of “Greg’s Gab”, which introduces our newest year-round staff member, Greg Walker. Greg, of course, isn’t new to Akeela – he’s been a camper favorite since arriving in the summer of 2012!
  • A can’t-miss profile of an impressive Akeela alumnus, Nolan D. He catches us up on what he’s been doing since his camper days, including his passion for working in the video game industry.

 

Read the newsletter here!

Family Camp Vermont Winter Newsletter


Spring 2017 Newsletter

The latest newsletter, The Akeela Circular, is here!

Here is an excerpt from the newsletter, in which we describe what campers can expect from the first day of camp:

Dear Akeela Camper,
Summer is almost here and we hope you are excited about camp, even if you’re also feeling a little nervous about it. Many kids go away for part of the summer. Some visit family, some go on teen travel or community service programs, and some go to sleep-away camps. Almost everybody worries about how they will like a place that’s new to them. It’s OK to feel that way and we’re
here to help make your transition to camp as easy and smooth as possible. We think that one way to do that is to help you know what to expect…
If you’re taking one of the camp buses to camp, you and your parents will meet some of our counselors at the bus pick-up location. They will be there to welcome you and to introduce you to other campers. They will help you find a seat on the bus with a new friend and will be there to answer any questions you might have. The travel time from NY is approximately 5 hours and the time from Boston is approximately 2.5 hours. You will bring lunch on the bus and there are bathrooms on both buses!
Those of you flying to Boston on Opening Day will be met at the airport by Akeela staff members. They will be there to greet you and to introduce you to other campers who have also flown in! You and your new friends will be driven by our staff in a camp van directly to camp. It will take approximately 2.5 hours to get to Akeela. If your parents are driving you to camp, you will be dropped off at 1:30. Your counselors will be there to meet you at your car and help you carry any last-minute items you have brought with you that day. You, your parents, and counselors will go to your cabin, where you’ll see all of your belongings have been unpacked and organized for you so you can easily find your bed. You’ll then say goodbye to your family and begin your camp adventure!
Regardless of how you get to camp, here’s what you can expect to happen the rest of that first day:
•You will have a chance to see what camp looks like and enjoy some planned activities with your bunkmates. You might take a tour, play some games, or jump on the jumping pillow.
•You’ll also meet our nurses so that they can give you a quick “health check” to make sure you’re healthy!
•Our great Chef, Catarina, will give you a small preview of her culinary expertise and provide a delicious snack for you and your new friends to enjoy.
•There will be some time after everyone arrives for each bunk to start spending some time together before we meet for dinner. This is a great time to get to know your bunkmates and counselors, and talk about “bunk expectations,” so you know what to expect from each other.
•We will all have dinner and Evening Meeting together as a community. You’ll eat dinner with your cabin, just like you will for all your meals at camp! Evening Meeting will be at the amphitheatre and you’ll get to hear from Eric and Debbie, and have a chance to make announcements about the new friends you’ve already made!
•Then it will be time for our opening campfire and evening snack. We’ll sing songs and do skits as a community by the fire. It’s one of our favorite parts of camp!
•Before bedtime, you will preview the next day’s schedule and then Debbie or Eric and your Head Counselor will stop by to say good night. Before you know it, your first day will be over and we will all be getting ready for bed!
Many campers worry that they might be sad or homesick on the first night of camp. That is very normal. All of your counselors will be right in your bunk with you to help you. In addition to talking to them, you might want to look at photos from home, write a letter to your family or read a book. We know that after a short time, you will be having such a great time at Akeela, it will feel like your second
home.
We can’t wait to see you at camp. Many of you will be joining us for our Open House on June 4th. If you’re not able to attend Open House, you’ll be able to see photos of the event on the camp website. We’re so excited for an amazing summer at Camp Akeela. See
you soon!

Read the entire newsletter here


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.


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!


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!

Aspergers Camp Directors high standards & Planning

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. This include speaking with three non family members for each applicant. Of course, there is also a lot of planning that goes into the camp program. In contrast 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!

ASD Summer Camp educator on our mission

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. Which is 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).

Camp Akeela as a part of Camp Group

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