Winter 2024 Newsletter

Now that it’s March, the camp season is just around the corner, and our latest newsletter is all about how to start preparing for the summer! It also includes a brief introduction to this year’s head counselors.

Read The Newsletter Here

A few highlights:

  1. CAMP FORMS – All of our required camp forms are now ready for you, and are due on May 15th. Access them through the Staff & Family Log In Campanion App. (See below; the app is the easiest way to submit those forms that require scanning & uploading.) While some forms can certainly wait until later in the spring, others are best submitted as soon as possible: Text Opt-In Form, Open House RSVP and Transportation Form. Thank you!
  2. DOWNLOAD CAMPANION – The best way to stay connected with your camper this summer is through the Campanion App, which is now available to all Akeela families, at no charge. We encourage you to download it and set up your account now. With Campanion’s facial recognition technology, you’ll get a personalized photo feed, along with push notifications for all news that applies to your child. It’s also a great way to submit your camp forms.
  3. REQUIRED ZOOM 5/9 – We will be hosting a mandatory Zoom call for all Akeela parents and campers at 8pm Eastern Time on May 9th. It will be a quick meeting to discuss our community expectations. Please save the date.
  4. FAMILY HANDBOOK – Please take the time to carefully read the Akeela Family Handbook … even if you’ve sent your child to Akeela in past summers! It is updated regularly and contains answers to all kinds of questions you may have about camp.
    On a related note, we will be hosting a few optional live Zooms in April. We will address many of the topics in the Family Handbook and your corresponding questions. See the newsletter for those topics.
  5. REGISTER FOR CAMPMEDS – All campers taking daily medication of any kind (prescription or over-the-counter) must have those meds sent to camp via CampMeds. Registration for CampMeds is now open. NOTE FOR RETURNING CAMPERS: This is not the same company that we used last year. Be sure to register here.
  6. BOOKING FLIGHTS TO CAMP – Please check with Eric before making any flight arrangements for your camper’s arrival on opening day of their camp session. To ensure an easy experience at the airport and a timely arrival at camp, we will often coordinate specific flight plans for our camp families.
  7. CHANGE TO OUR RETURN TRAVEL OPTIONS – Due to the unpredictability of air travel, we are no longer able to accommodate campers flying home alone at the end of their camp session. Instead, any camper departing camp via air must be met at Boston Logan Airport by an adult who either flies home with them or takes responsibility for getting them to their departing flight.
  8. ORDERING AN AKEELA T-SHIRT – It’s not too early to order your Akeela gear from The Camp Spot, as they get quite busy in the late spring. There is lots of great Akeela gear available but only the basic logo’d lightweight cotton t-shirt is required.

Read The Newsletter Here


Akeela Spring Newsletters

With summer right around the corner, we have prepared not one but TWO newsletters for our camp community:

Parent Newsletter, April 2023

and

Camper Newsletter, April 2023

These newsletters contain a lot of important and exciting information about this coming summer, including:

  • What’s New At Akeela This Summmer: new ropes course elements, an amazing inflatable in the lake and pickleball!
  • Where Campers Come From: a cool look at how many states (and countries) are represented by our 2023 campers.
  • Head Counselors: what is their role and camp and who are the 2023 head counselors?
  • Camp Nurses: Meet Pam and Chuck, our wonderful health care team
  • Camper To Do List: A few things campers can do between now and arrival to get ready for the best summer of their lives!
  • What To Expect On The First Day: A detailed breakdown of what that camp arrival day will be like

The parent newsletter also begins with the following thoughts from Debbie:

Both of our daughters (ages 14 and 9) will be away at their camp this summer for 7 weeks. I’m a camp director and we’re very friendly with the camp directors who run their camp. I “shouldn’t” be nervous, right? But I am! I am a worrier and I worry most about my family – so when I allow myself to get caught up in thinking about the “what-ifs”, it can get pretty messy and then my anxiety is obvious to my kids.

I know that my most important task right now is to help instill a sense of confidence in my children before they are at camp on their own. In order to do that I also need to prepare myself, and that takes time and energy – a positive energy. Pushing through our own fears and worries needs to be a priority so we can meet our children with a “clean slate”. They need to feel our optimism and confidence that going to camp will be a life-changing experience – one that will enable them to become more independent and confident, and will hopefully open them up to meaningful friendships that will last a long time. Our children are intuitive and if they sense that we’re afraid about this very big transition, they will take on that worry themselves.

Some things that I’ve found helpful, and some advice for those of you who are worried and anxious about camp this summer:

  • Write it down! Take some time during the day (not right before bed or you’ll never be able to fall asleep!) to jot down anything that’s making you feel anxious. Writing your worries down will allow you to acknowledge them and either use your notes to address the concern, or let it go.
  • This includes making lists – what do you need to do? Have you completed your forms? Sent in the RX from the pediatrician? Looked at the packing list to assess what you might need? And have you gone through last year’s “camp stuff” to see what still fits?
  • Call us! If you’re concerned about something, maybe we can help. Sometimes, more information is helpful in minimizing our fears.
  • Breathe! Go for a walk or take 10 minutes with a cup of tea to just relax. How often do you allow yourself to take time for just yourself? It’s important and it’s helpful.
  • Read “Homesick and Happy” by Michael Thompson. This is a great book, especially for first-time camp parents. It’s filled with helpful information, plus – reading will help you take your mind off of your own worries.

By the way, this is great advice for your anxious camper, too! Once you are feeling confident about having your camper with us at camp, take some time to sit down with them to make a list of their “things to do” before camp. Maybe there’s one task you can do together each week to prepare, for example: address envelopes for letters to family/friends, email Debbie/Eric/Erin a few questions, make a list of books/card games/crafts you want to bring to camp, etc.

You may also want to help your camper make a list or start a journal with things they’re looking forward to doing at camp. Do they have a goal in mind? Something new they want to try or something they want to accomplish? It’s also a great time to start pushing your camper to be more independent in anticipation of being on their own this summer. Are younger campers getting ready for bed and school independently? (Showering, brushing their teeth, putting away their clothes …) Are older campers thinking about non-electronic tasks they can do during down times this summer? Having your camper think about these things NOW will help them feel more prepared as summer approaches.
Finally, as I’ve written about this year on a few different occasions, it’s important to use language that acknowledges a child’s worries but also expresses confidence. Statements like, “I know you’re worried about going to camp AND I’m really certain that you can do this.” These types of statements are the loving push our campers need to feel more secure in this transition.

We’re very excited to see your child up at camp in a very short time – sooner if you’ll be joining us for our Open House in June! Your camper’s head counselor will be emailing you in mid-June to introduce themselves to you and they’ll want to know if there’s anything on your mind. Feel free to start a list now that you can email or call once our team is all up in Vermont. Enjoy your Spring and we’ll see you soon!

Again, you can read the entire newsletters here:

Parent Newsletter, April 2023

and

Camper Newsletter, April 2023


Neurodiversity and Gender

An important note before moving on to the rest of this post:

Akeela is a community that prides itself, above all else, on being welcoming to everyone. Our whole purpose is to provide a space where “quirky” kids can be themselves, surrounded by peers and counselors who don’t just accept them for who they are, but who adore them just the way they are. That core belief extends beyond neurodiversity to include all forms of diversity, including gender. Many of our campers identify beyond the binary and it goes without saying that they are integral and thriving members of our camp community. While we are currently discussing gender-inclusive housing for upcoming summers, Akeela has to date offered “boys cabins” and “girls cabins”. It is with that binary housing framework in mind that we explore the topic of neurodiversity and gender in this blog post.

Since its inception, Camp Akeela has always been very intentional about creating a coed community. That may have something to do with Eric’s own experiences as a camper. His first overnight camp, which he attended for three summers, was an all-boys camp. There was a sister camp a few miles away and the only times the two camps mixed were at weekly “socials”. These events were not Eric’s forte; they felt forced and awkward. There was peer pressure to make an impression on the girls, but no opportunity to really get to know any of them as friends. When he was 12, Eric started attending a different camp, and he stayed there for 12 summers! It was a coed camp that had as one of its founding principles the idea that boys and girls should develop natural friendships through shared experiences. There were no socials; instead, campers swam, hiked, ate, and played together every day. The results were just as that camp’s founders intended: Eric developed as many lifelong friendships with girls as he did with the boys in his cabin.

When creating Camp Akeela, we shared the philosophy of Eric’s second childhood camp. It was really important to us, from the perspective of camp culture, to remove any potential barriers between potential friends at camp. We wanted to make it as easy as possible for campers to have friendships wherever they organically developed in the Akeela community. We were also told by many parents who were signing up for camp that their children tended to get along better with kids who didn’t share their gender and/or who were of a different age.

All of that is to say that we always wanted Akeela to have as close to a one-to-one ratio of boys to girls as possible. It turns out that was easier said than done! To the extent that many of our families find us through their child’s diagnosis of Asperger’s or ASD, we have always received more phone calls from parents of boys than parents of girls. Indeed, as recently as 2022, it was estimated that ASD was diagnosed three to four times more often in boys than in girls. 

As an aside, there is quite a bit of excellent literature out there about why this imbalance exists. A quick Google search turned up these results on the first page:

Why Many Autistic Girls Are Overlooked: They often go undiagnosed because they don’t fit autism stereotypes and they mask symptoms better than boys do.

Written by Beth Arky and published by the Child Mind Institute,

https://childmind.org/article/autistic-girls-overlooked-undiagnosed-autism/

Autism Is Underdiagnosed In Girls and Women

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understanding-the-diversity-in-neurodiversity/202202/autism-is-underdiagnosed-in-girls-and

Written by Karen Saporito, published by Psychology Today on February 3, 2022

Are Girl With Autism Hiding In Plain Sight?

https://sparkforautism.org/discover_article/are-girls-with-autism-hiding-in-plain-sight/

Written by Marina Sarris, published by SPARK, February 14, 2023

As we said in our most recent camp newsletter (https://campakeela.com/akeela-newsletter-february-2023/), we are starting to see a marked increase in the number of girls applying to Camp Akeela. This is a trend that we are thrilled about – both because expect to have more female-identifying campers in 2023 than ever before and because it indicates that girls are starting to receive the diagnoses and support that they deserve!


April 2021 News For Campers

Read The Camper Newsletter Here

It’s spring and that means that the camp season is just around the corner. We’ll be moving up to Akeela the first week of June so that we can get ready for our staff to arrive on June 12th. We can’t wait to get there, but most of all, we are counting down the days until we get to welcome all of our campers back to Akeela this summer!

This has been an unusual year, to say the least, and we really believe that camp is exactly what we all need right now. It will be a chance to re-connect with friends, face to face, while taking a little break from our technology and screens. Instead of playing games online, you can look forward to making new friends and talking about those games with other campers!

In this month’s camper-only newsletter, you’ll find:

  • advice about how to start preparing for your time at Camp Akeela
  • a preview of how we’ll introduce you to your bunkmates and counselors before camp starts
  • a reminder of what to expect from a typical day at Akeela
  • “Akeela 101”, a quick review of who is who at camp and some of the terminology we use at Akeela

Read The Camper Newsletter Here


February 2021 Newsletter and Upcoming Webinars

The February edition of our Akeela newsletter is here!

With cold weather and more snow than we’ve had in a number of years here in Philly, we are even MORE excited that camp is on the horizon! We cannot wait for June! Eric and Ben have been spending a great deal of time interviewing staff who have impressed us with their talents and passion. We’ve also rehired a number of former staff members who can’t wait to get back to Miller Pond. And, of course, we’ve loved catching up with all of you by phone, emails and on our virtual programs. Debbie has been busier than ever meeting and enrolling new campers who are so excited to join the Akeela community this summer.

Camp is happening and we’re ready for it!

Of course, we know many of you have questions about how camp will be different this summer due to COVID. This newsletter includes some answers to those questions. Hopefully, you’ve also visited our COVID web page, which is updated regularly.

You’ll also find information about a couple of very exciting upcoming webinars:

  • February 28, 2021: Helping My Neurodiverse Child Get Ready for Life’s Transitions (Including Going To Camp!), with Dr. Anthony Rostain and Dr. B Janet Hibbs, authors of The Stressed Years of Their Lives.   Register here for this FREE webinar.

Read the entire newsletter here.


December 2020 News – Happy Holidays!

It’s time for our December 2020 Newsletter!

This edition includes an excerpt from our blog post about setting limits and expectations at home, along with a link to a video of the webinar Debbie co-hosted on the same topic. Also included in the newsletter is camper & staff news and a collage of photos showing our community’s Akeela spirit on National Camp T-Shirt Day!

Debbie and Eric also want to wish everyone a very happy holidays …

We’re now in the final month of 2020 – a year many of us have found difficult. As the days get shorter and shorter, we’re reminded of the many spots of light that get us through darker times. Here at our home in Philadelphia, we have created new traditions – birthdays and holidays have become exciting landmarks in an otherwise empty calendar. Birthday decorations have become more important, afternoon walks around the neighborhood are now an opportunity to talk to other people, Zoom holidays with family and friends from all over the world are now the norm, and there has been a lot of baking going on in the kitchen. All of this family time isn’t always easy – our tween often tells us she just wants to be alone! At the same time, our 1st grader hates to be alone for more than a few minutes! We have watched a lot of movies on Netflix.

Yet we are reminded every day how lucky we are. We are especially grateful for our camp community. We spend every day thinking about being back together this summer in Vermont with our campers and staff. When we’re feeling low, we try to focus on a memory from Akeela: being together with friends at the campfire site, laughing on the slide at the lake, watching the talent show as a community. We know that even if camp looks a little different this summer, the feelings that Akeela gives all of us will be the same.

Our wish for all of you is that you take some time to find a light in all of this darkness, that you’re able to wrap yourself in a warm memory from camp, and that it brings you joy and peace. Please know that we’re thinking of all of you and are looking forward to the time when we can all gather together safely.

Here’s to 2021!

With love,
Debbie and Eric

Read the full newsletter here


Why We All Need Family Camp

Being a camp director is probably one of the most fulfilling careers a person can ask for. We work for nine months every year hiring staff, thinking about ways to improve our program, helping children connect with one another, improving our site … and the list goes on. When we realized that COVID-19 might affect this summer, we were actually at a camp conference in New Jersey with 3,000 other camp professionals. At that time, public health professionals and advisors were telling us to hang tight – they explained that most viruses die out in warmer weather and that testing and social distancing would really get the virus under control. We started planning for more cleaning supplies and soap and hand sanitizer. We began meeting with our camp colleagues on bi-weekly Zoom calls to talk about the hows and what-ifs. We had no idea in March that in May, we’d have to make the heart-breaking decision not to run our two camper sessions this summer.

As we end our third month of quarantine and maintaining social distance from our friends and community, we are starting to really feel the effects of being isolated. Our kids are really lonely and are expressing sadness about the loss of their own connections and communities. We are craving experiences outside of the walls of our home – taking hikes and going on neighborhood walks are certainly helpful but they don’t compare to having friends over for dinner, sitting in our favorite restaurants or going to the zoo or art museum with our kids. We often stay up late talking in whispers about when this will end. When will we be able to have our kids play with their friends? When will we feel safe going into busier places?

We believe that Family Camp is a great “next step” for us to start to safely and slowly expand our family “bubbles” (and two camp doctors who wrote this op-ed in the New York Times agree). Social connection with others is so important at this time, especially for young people with Asperger’s and autism. We want to have a chance to allow our campers and their parents and siblings to enjoy the Vermont air and more SPACE! Swimming in a lake seems like a luxury right now. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when I can let my kids run around camp and not feel so confined. Maybe we’ll keep the screens off for a while! The change of scenery might be enough to help me feel less trapped and anxious. I’ve always thought that just being at Akeela feels sacred. Being in a special place where I can be with other people in a safer way will help me feel connected. And right now, that’s what we all need.

We invite you to learn more about our 2020 Family Camp and call us with any questions!


Professional and Personal Life Changing Summers – Rachel Gallagher, Camp Cabin Counselor

Hello! My name is Rachel, and currently I’m a 23-year-old medical student at the University of Minnesota. The two summers that I’ve spent working at Camp Akeela have been among the best of my life. Even though I first came to Akeela with foundational knowledge of the autism spectrum, I’d never actually gone to a summer camp myself as a kid; as a result, I had no idea what to expect about life at Akeela. It turns out that my summers at Akeela were life-changing in so many meaningful ways, both professionally and personally. 

As a medical student, working at Akeela has given me a chance to spend tons of time interacting closely with a unique patient demographic – highly intelligent young people who face some social skills challenges. Being a cabin counselor at Akeela has ensured that I develop skills essential to healthcare, such as communication, problem solving, and empathy. Now when I approach clinical challenges in a medical setting, I find myself thinking back to the complex social situations I experienced and facilitated at Akeela; utilizing the strategies I learned through working with Akeela campers undoubtedly improves my patient-care interactions. 

Beyond professional development, I’ve also gained a second home through Akeela. I had never guessed that within just a few weeks, my campers and co-workers would become like family to me. On hard days, even months later, thinking back to memories of Akeela makes life better.  I never fail to smile as I relive the moment that one of my teen campers literally jumped with joy because of the free samples at the Ben and Jerry’s factory. Sometimes I wake up in the morning convinced that I’m back in Cabin 2 and surrounded by my group of sleeping campers; starting a day by thinking of Akeela like this always makes me wish that my next summer on Miller Pond could come around faster.Camp Akeela Counselors Change Lives

 


Camp Akeela Summer 2019 Slideshows!

The holiday season is a great time to be together with family and to reflect on the past year. As we do so, we are very grateful for our Akeela community. Nothing brightens a cold winter day more than thinking about all of the warmth, joy, laughter and friendship we feel and see all around us throughout the summer at camp.

We hope that these slideshows remind you of your great memories from camp. Enjoy!

Akeela Vermont Session 1

Akeela Vermont Session 2

Akeela Wisconsin Session 1

Akeela Wisconsin Session 2


Post-Camp September Blues

After we move our family home from camp and get our daughters settled back into their school routines, I spend most of the fall talking to parents about camp and the transition home and into a new school year. It’s often a challenging time for our campers and parents too! What I hear most often is this, “I don’t get it. He was so successful at camp and he came home and was happy and texting with camp friends. He even made his own bed for a while without prompting. Now that school’s started, he’s just reverted back to his old ways.” Yes. We know!

So, here’s the question: Did the magic of camp just wear off or did something else happen? I think the answer is BOTH.

There is a lot that we can do at camp that is challenging for you as parents at home to mimic. For example, our campers live with 7 other kids their age and have 4 staff members dedicated to those campers 24/7. The positive peer pressure that comes from living in a community and wanting to be a part of that group is really powerful. When everyone is going to an activity – even one that a camper may “refuse” to do at home – she goes and even participates because that’s what everyone else is doing! When something less preferred is on the table at dinner and the coolest counselor at the table says, “Broccoli? Pass that to me. I LOVE broccoli!”, suddenly, your camper who refuses to eat any veggies at home is willing to at least take one bite. You just can’t mimic that at home and I’ll venture to guess that even the coolest parent doesn’t have the same influence that our staff can! In addition, our campers feel relaxed at Akeela. They don’t have homework or the stress of being in an environment where there are confined to small, noisy, crowded spaces. They are running around, playing on 400 acres of beautiful woods. They have very few demands placed on them (outside of the 24/7 social demands) and they feel like they can be themselves. By living in a community where they are with friends and staff who “get” them, they can enjoy friendships and a sense of pride that they can’t find at school.

And then, yes, something likely “happens” in the fall. The start of school brings with it the reminders of unkind classmates, demanding teachers, or even teachers who aren’t demanding enough. Most importantly, it brings a world of people who don’t really get it. That’s exhausting and it’s upsetting for a lot of our campers. At the end of 2nd session, a lot of our campers talk to us about how nervous they are to leave. They wish that camp was year-round so they didn’t have to deal with school. Don’t get me wrong, most of our campers are brilliant and love to learn but school can sometimes take the joy out of that.

So – what can you do at home?

  • You can make sure that you’re normalizing all of these feelings for your child.
  • You can remind them that keeping in touch with camp friends, although time-consuming, is really energizing and healthy. These are the people who “get” you after all! They will need guidance with this – they may not know where to start when it comes to having a relationship with someone they don’t see in school. Help them compose an email, practice how to call someone to invite them over, teach them how to Skype or Facetime (and then stay close by the first few times to make sure they don’t need help to keep the conversation going).
  • You can set some expectations – just like at camp! You can tell your child that they are responsible for certain things around the house like: making their own bed, doing their own laundry (or at least folding it and putting it away – neatly!). Please remind your child that she was able to do all of that at camp and there’s no reason not to do it at home as well. This will give your child a sense of pride and the knowledge that you believe they are capable. For our camper who struggle with Executive Functioning, a checklist is very helpful.
  • Encourage your child to help prepare a meal once a week. This often helps with trying new foods. Kids are more apt to TRY things they’ve put an effort into making! (It works at camp in our cooking classes!)
  • Finally, feel free to call us any time! We’re always here to help.