Akeela Wisconsin Spring Newsletter

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

This jam-packed newsletter includes a lot of important information for camp parents, introductions to a new senior staff member, 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 the bus to camp from the Chicago suburbs,, 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 to camp is about 3.5 hours, and you will bring lunch with you from home for the bus ride to camp.

Those of you flying to Chicago 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 3.5 hours to get to Akeela from the airport, too. If your parents are driving you to camp, you will be dropped off at between 1:00pm and 2:00pm. Your counselors will be there to meet you at your car and help you carry your luggage up to your room. You, your parents, and counselors will go to your dorm room, maybe meet some other bunkmates who have already arrived, and put your stuff down in your room. 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 campus looks like and enjoy some planned activities with your bunkmates. You might take a tour and play some games.
  • You’ll also meet our nurses so that they can give you a quick “health check” to make sure you’re healthy!
  • There will be some time after everyone arrives for each bunk group 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 bunkgroup at the same table, just like you will for all your meals at camp! Evening Meeting will be at the amphitheatre and you’ll get to hear from Dave and Katie, 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 Dave or Katie 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 the dorm 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’re so excited for an amazing summer at Camp Akeela. See you soon!

 

Check out the entire newsletter here!

 


Social Skills Camp for Elementary and Middle School Children

Parents sometimes worry that their child is “too young” for sleepover camp. Sometimes, that’s true. Parents know their children best and usually sense when their child is ready for more independence. Often, parents need to take a step back and recognize their child’s strengths so that they can let go and allow their child to experience life more independently. As a camp director, of course I see the value in camp. But as a parent, it was hard for me to let go!

When our daughter was entering 3rd grade, Eric and I thought she was ready to experience camp on her own. She was showering nightly (with prompting from us), was able to express her feelings to trusted adults and enjoyed being active and outdoors. And although she had those necessary skills, I still worried about whether or not she was REALLY ready. I’m lucky to have a partner who pushes me to get through my own anxiety so that it doesn’t spill over into the lives of our daughters (not that often at least!) and so I was on-board when we chose a camp for our 8-year-old and sent her off for 3 weeks of sleepover camp.

Children in elementary school and Middle School are at a wonderful age to start a new camp. They are young enough that they will have years of camp ahead of them – that’s a lot of time to work on developing new skills, to practice being more independent and, most importantly, to build lasting friendships. For so many elementary school and middle school-aged children, camp can be the place where they feel most themselves, free to be unique and to take safe risks. This is particularly true for kids who struggle socially (including those with Asperger’s, NLD or on the autism spectrum). For our younger campers, camp allows them to do things on their own and to become more independent and to practice self-advocacy. Our Middle School age campers feel accepted and connected in ways that are often challenging at school.

Why wait? Starting camp at a younger age just means more opportunity to really absorb all that a camp community has to offer. Your child may be ready sooner than you think!


Want a Job At Google? Go To a Social Skills Summer Camp!

Google | Social Skills Summer CampFor generations of campers, summer camp has been teaching critical life skills. Camp has always been so much more than a recreational experience or simply a “fun” way to spend the summer. Are many camp activities recreational in nature? Sure. And is living in a cabin with a group of peers, supervised by attentive and passionate counselors, a lot of fun? It’s the best! That’s what makes camp such an incredibly unique and powerful educational setting: kids are learning without feeling like they’re learning. They’re having the time of their lives while ALSO growing in ways that will shape who they become as adults.

In recent years, camp professionals have been working to better articulate the value of the camp experience. This effort has coincided with a movement to introduce the concept of 21st Century Skills to the dialogue around the American education system. Other educators are coming to realize what camp directors have always known – but too rarely talked about: that “soft skills” like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, resilience, empathy and self-awareness are actually better indicators of academic and professional success than mastery of traditional academic subjects or even other intelligence measurements.

Surprising thing Google learned about its employees

We recently came across an article in The Washington Post, titled “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students”. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/12/20/the-surprising-thing-google-learned-about-its-employees-and-what-it-means-for-todays-students/) The article contains a post by Cathy N. Davidson, who summarizes the findings from two research projects conducted by Google: Project Oxygen in 2013 and Project Aristotle in 2017.
Ms. Davidson indicates that Google’s founders originally concentrated their hiring on candidates with great academic success in computer science and other “hard” skills. By 2013, they had enough employment data to analyze which specific talents correlated with the most success and best leadership at work. Here’s what they found:

Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

That paragraph is striking to me because it so accurately describes the skills we teach at camp. We’re shooting a new promotional video for Akeela this summer. In preparation for that project, we’ve been working a lot on articulating. A few key messages to potential camp families: What makes Akeela unique? What will a camper’s experience be like in our community? What can parents expect as a return on their investment in our camp? To that last question, I can hardly think of a better answer than what appears above.

The post goes on to discuss the results of Google’s 2017 research on teams, Project Aristotle:

Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.

By way of conclusion, Ms. Davidson says,

STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone. As Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.

Here’s a list of the key concepts from those findings:

  • Communication and listening
  • theory of mind (perspective taking)
  • empathy and emotional intelligence
  • curiosity, critical thinking and problem solving
  • emotional intelligence
  • kindness, generosity and respect for others
  • confidence and the ability to learn from mistakes
  • belief in one’s own value and voice

The skills on that list are what camp is all about! Because we’re a camp that specializes in kids who need a little extra social support. We’re particularly intentional about building those life skills lessons into everything we do at Akeela. Our counselors know that they’re preparing children for a fulfilled and successful life … And it’s good to know that Google agrees!


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


Winter Weekend 2018

Our fourth 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 took full advantage of the perfect winter weather with lots of sledding and snow play, 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.


Happy Holidays from Camp Akeela

Happy holidays from all of us here at Camp Akeela! We’re thinking of all our camp friends during this season, and can’t wait to be back at camp with you in 2018. We have posted the end of session slide shows from Vermont’s first and second session below so you can relive the magical moments of last summer with us. Wishing everyone a safe and happy rest of the holiday season!

Love,
Debbie, Eric, Dave, Greg, & Kevin

Vermont ’17 First Session

Vermont ’17 Second Session

Camp Akeela Vermont Happy Holidays

Aspergers Camp Program


Girls on the Autism Spectrum

Girls Autism SpectrumWe speak with parents who have girls every day and they often tell us that people just “don’t get it”. Girls who are struggling socially present differently than boys. They are often masters at “small talk” and are not shy about introducing themselves to new people and chatting with acquaintances. However, as time passes, they struggle to get deeper into their relationships. They don’t understand the next steps. For other girls, their social enthusiasm can be a turn-off to peers as some girls insert themselves into social situations at inopportune times or in a way that seems “off topic” or “odd”. For this reason, girls are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed, leaving them without support for far too long.

I recently listened to an older Australian radio interview (http://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/dr-tony-attwood-turns-his-focus-to-women-with-aspergers/7756374 ) with Dr. Tony Atwood – guru of all things Aspergers and an outstanding clinician and lecturer – about girls on the Spectrum. He pointed out that often times girls do not present as a “problem” until the social scene in school becomes more complicated. We hear about this frequently. All children – but girls especially – blend in with their peers at a young age. As kids get older, the discrepancy with their peers broadens and the struggles become more apparent. Dr. Atwood also mentioned that girls are often good “actors” and are better able to “play the role” that they may see on TV or in movies. After some time – even after school at home – “the exhaustion of wearing that mask catches up” to them and they begin to really struggle.

He stated that what is most important for girls on the spectrum is to BRING THEM TOGETHER so that they can be with other people who “speak the same language” and so they can relate to one another and recognize they are not alone. They will learn that “their suffering comes from the ignorance of others”, not from a flaw in themselves. When I heard him say this, I became emotional – this is why Eric and I are so passionate about what we do. We believe firmly that bringing the right group of children together each summer is what is so transformative. Allowing our campers to support each other and to share their own struggles is what makes Akeela so magical. Having Dr. Atwood confirm this is just the icing on the cake!


On Going to Camp with Asperger’s | Part 2

This blog was written by guest blogger and Camp Akeela alumna, Lara Lewis. We are so grateful to Lara for contributing this article!

 

You can view Lara’s blog here https://awetisticwriting.wordpress.com/

I attended Camp Akeela for three years, which is a large amount of time to compress into so many words. So for part 2, I wanted to write a sort of “Greatest Hits” summary – my favorite parts about being at camp, but also the parts that helped me grow in ways I didn’t expect, working my way up to the best of the best. To start off: chores.

I hear you on the other side of the screen. “Chores? How is that fun?” The chores themselves weren’t always. We were our own clean up crew; everything from sweeping to trash. The reason I list it is what I gained from it; namely that I actually learned how to do those things, with everyone’s responsibilities shifting regularly. It’s a skill you don’t realize you need until the moment you need it. Speaking as somebody who’s lived in a dorm by herself, you will need it.

Next on the list is a tie of two places – the Art Barn and the library. The library was a little uphill cabin full of books waiting to be cracked open, which was something I adored, and the Art Barn was basically a craft studio full of supplies for young artists, and art was something else I adored. It wasn’t just my luck, though; there seemed to be something for everybody, from sports to swimming to anything else you could expect a camp to have. I still have the little sun-catcher I made one year – it’s hanging in the window!

The best I saved for last – the community. I know, that’s cheesy, but it’s true. I was among my own; you don’t realize just how much you need people like you, who know how strange your experience can be, until you’ve found them. I was surrounded by other kids with sensory issues, with ticks and quirks, with passions like mine. There’s something valuable to be had in a space where you can find people like you. It taught me something I think every kid deserves to know: You are not alone.

For those who missed Part 1 Click here.


Akeela Vermont Fall Newsletter

The latest newsletter, the Akeela Circular, is here!

Here’s an excerpt, in which Debbie and Eric reflect about the camp’s 10 year anniversary:

In late August of 2007, we were given the opportunity to start our own camp. It was a dream come true – especially for Eric, who had been working in camping full-time for almost 10 years. We have such vivid memories (aided by some of Debbie’s photos) of our first walk-around on the property that would soon become Camp Akeela. We can laugh now about how nervous we both were, seeing how much work the site needed. Buildings were falling down, the dining hall was dark and dirty, and there were virtually no indoor gathering spaces. The beauty of a great partnership is that where one partner sees trouble, the other sees possibility and beauty. That has been true for us both professionally and personally. While Debbie cringed in fear that the site would never be ready in time to welcome campers in less than a year, Eric saw endless potential and his excitement was palpable. Thank goodness, because in those 9 months, Blayne and his crew literally moved buildings and earth, built a new health center, dug a pool, transformed the cabins and created our amazingly beautiful site.

We just finished our 10th summer at Akeela and we are so proud and honored to have been a part of the creation of such a special community. Over 1,000 campers have attended Akeela, 8 staff couples have gotten engaged or married after meeting at camp, and countless lifelong friendships have been forged. We are working on plans for an official 10-year reunion for our campers and staff and will let you know once we have a finalized date and itinerary.

Thank you for being a part of our community. We look forward to many more years of friendship.

Read the entire newsletter here.


On Going to Camp with Aspergers

This blog was written by guest blogger and Camp Akeela alumna, Lara Lewis. We are so grateful to Lara for contributing this article, and look forward to posting Part 2 soon!

You can view Lara’s blog here https://awetisticwriting.wordpress.com/

On Going to Camp with Aspergers (or My Camp Akeela Experience), Part 1
Lara Lewis

In 2009, I took my first steps into the world of Camp Akeela. It’s a Sleep-Away camp, but it was founded with “quirky” campers in mind – primarily those with social and learning disorders. I remember a large open field with two rows of cabins, one on either side. A big mess hall and a small sports field. A nature walk, a barn, and a lake.

I also remember being scared out of my mind. I had gone to a camp away from home the year before, and it had been a testing and tiring experience. The difference was that place was for kids in general – this was a place for kids like me.

Camp with Aspergers Summer Camp

I had never been around so many kids with conditions like mine. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many people like me in one place since. Sometimes it can be easy to forget there are other people with Asperger’s who are just out living, real people and not symptoms listed in a doctor’s book.

It was not easy to forget when I was at camp.

Being in the outdoors and living in cabins provided a whole host of issues – dirt, lack of temperature control, timed showers (five minutes each, and I’m still able to make that time today), and most of all living with other kids who had as much trouble reading social cues as I did. Communication was both simple and unclear – what was straightforward to me might have been vague to somebody else and vice versa.

But the thing I remember most, eight years later, is that we were experiencing them together. We were all “quirky” and we found a community, and it’s hard not to bond over getting sand in your shorts when you were all at the same fire pit. There’s something special to be had there, realizing you’re all going through the same thing, even if you experience it differently.

Part 2 Coming Soon!