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 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!
Debbie, Eric, Dave, Greg, & Kevin
Vermont ’17 First Session
Vermont ’17 Second Session
Camp Akeela Vermont Happy Holidays
We 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!
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.
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.
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
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!
Here’s an excerpt from the newsletter:
Happy spring, friends! This has always been the most exciting time of year for us, as we gear up for the camp season. This year is even more exciting as we are preparing for our first summer at our new Wisconsin site! As a family, our transition from Philadelphia to Wisconsin is a busy one, but it will be well worth it as we eagerly anticipate spending this summer with you at camp!
In addition to our excitement, we also feel a bit anxious about our transition. Katie especially always gets “butterflies” in her stomach when she leaves home. When she first started as a counselor at Akeela in 2011, she felt very homesick flying from her home in Ohio to a place that was totally new to her. Even though it’s now her 7th year at Akeela, she stills feels a little homesick at the start of every summer! We want our campers to know that all of these feelings – being excited, nervous, sad, anxious – are all normal and once at camp, our community will be there to support them. Katie can attest to the fact that after the initial settling-in period, camp feels like a second home and time flies by faster than we’d like!
Many people ask us what we do during a typical day at camp … and our answer is that “it depends”! Between June 11th and the 16th, we’ll be at our site in Vermont, along with our head counselors, Lauren and Dr. Dave, collaborating, sharing ideas, and going over expectations for the summer. This Senior Staff training is a great opportunity to come together as a larger Akeela team, to share best practices, and to make sure that there is consistent implementation of our greater camp goals at both of our sites. On June 16th, the Wisconsin Leadership Team packs up and heads to Appleton! The rest of the staff arrives on June 19th, and we spend that week training our counselors and preparing for campers’ arrival.
During a typical camp day, we spend as much time as possible on campus with our campers and staff (rather than in the camp office, which is why we rarely answer the phone during the camp season.) Our primary responsibility – and our favorite thing to do – is to make sure everyone at camp is safe and happy. One of the most wonderful aspects of our job is that we never know exactly what each day will bring; we make ourselves available to the people who need us most at any given moment. That includes those of you at home who have trusted us with the care of your children! You should expect to hear most often from your camper’s head counselor, who will call with updates and concerns, and will return your phone calls. However, you can always feel free to send us an email or call the office and ask to leave a message for Dave or Katie. We generally return parent phone calls in the evenings, after our campers are in bed.
We can’t wait to kick off the summer of 2017 and lay the foundation for many more years of community, friendship, growth, pride, and fun at Camp Akeela in Wisconsin!
Dave & Katie
Each 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!
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.
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.