October 2020 Newsletter

We hope you’ll check out the latest issue of Camp Akeela’s monthly newsletter! In this edition, we highlight a couple of recent blog posts.

One is a piece about Summer 2020: it was a very different summer for all of us and we were extremely sad that our regular camp sessions weren’t able to run. At the same time, we had a wonderful time at Akeela Family Camp and we learned a ton about how to run a safe, healthy camp in a COVID-19 environment. That experience, along with lessons learned from our colleagues who ran successful camps this summer, have made us feel 100% ready to open Akeela in the summer of 2021. We are counting down the days until then!

The other blog that’s highlighted in the newsletter is a piece that Debbie wrote about some strategies we can all use to maintain feelings of control in such a new and unpredictable world. Everyone feels less anxious and happier when they know what to expect from their immediate future. That’s even more true for many of our campers, who really thrive when things are “previewed” for them as much as possible. In her blog, Debbie recommends that parents do the following:

  1. encourage their kids to find social outlets with friends
  2. create family schedules of activities and explicit expectations (including chores!)
  3. involve their kids in advance planning of meals
  4. get everyone outside and active
  5. use a calendar to mark future events to look forward to, including the start of camp next summer!

Also in the newsletter is some “Good News” about Akeela wedding engagements and marriages, along with some photos from our summer at camp.

Read the entire October 2020 Newsletter here.


Helping Our Children (And Ourselves) Feel More In Control

It’s hard to believe that summer has come and gone. When we started hearing about the coronavirus, we were confident that “they” would have it all figured out well before camp was scheduled to start. It seems like ages ago we were on bi-weekly calls with our colleagues discussing PPE and testing. In reality, it’s been about six months. Our two daughters started school virtually and we’re working remotely with our year-round team, working hard on planning for the 2021 camp season. Managing work and school plus all of our other responsibilities like grocery shopping, meal prep, cleaning the house, commitments to organizations has been challenging. While this was all novel in the spring, it’s now become tedious, tiresome and frightening – as we’re sure it has for many of you.

For our campers (many of whom have a diagnosis of ASD or NVLD), knowing what to expect ahead of time is very helpful and often an important tool in managing their anxiety. So much about today’s world makes it impossible to have that security of knowing what to expect. I often think about what I can do to help our daughters (and ourselves, frankly) feel safer. What can we do to help our children – especially autistic children and those with Aspergers Syndrome – feel more in control and have more agency during these uncertain times?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Encouragement: Have your camper come up with an activity (outside of school) that will enable them to interact with other kids through a shared interest. This might have to be virtual for now but could evolve into an in-person activity in the near future. For example: learning a new instrument, exploring a new hobby (a craft project like learning how to sew a quilt or clothing), or joining a virtual game of Dungeons & Dragons.
  2. Schedules: Create a family schedule for the weekends when everyone can pitch in. Perhaps one morning is set aside for everyone to help clean your living space. This gives you an opportunity to teach your children valuable life skills and also provides some help with tasks that need to get accomplished anyway!  
  3. Family Meal Planning: Have a family meeting to figure out meals for the week. Can you ask your camper to prepare their own lunches? (This can be done the night before on school days or can be left on a shelf in the fridge with a piece of tape with his/her name so they know what’s been set aside.) Perhaps campers can help make a grocery list and learn how to help prepare meals. Many of our campers love to cook or bake and this might be a great time to help them develop this skill.
  4. Get Outside: Encourage campers to get outside. Walking the dog — for a set minimum amount of time — is a great daily activity for our ASD and NVLD campers. One of our Family Campers this summer told us that his son has to walk the dog for an hour before returning home!  No pets? Campers can put on a mask and bike, scooter, walk in the neighborhood/city with a sibling or friend. When it’s raining, campers can still go out for a walk or can make use of any covered outdoor space.  
  5. Look Forward: Finally, having something to look forward to is always helpful.  We’re counting down the days until Akeela 2021. Perhaps your camper wants to take a calendar (or print one from the computer) and start tracking the days until he/she will be with us at camp! 

– Eric and Debbie Sasson
Your Camp Akeela Directors

In case you hadn’t heard, our dates for summer 2021:

  • 1st Session: Saturday June 26th – Monday, July 19th
  • 2nd Session: Thursday, July 22nd – Saturday, August 14th

If you’re the parent of a child with autism, asperger’s, another nvld or who is otherwise quirky, find out how to apply for camp next year or reach out to our staff today!

Connect With Our Directors


Reflections on Summer 2020

I’m pretty sure we can all say that summer 2020 did not go as planned. Everyone was scrambling to shift gears and make alternate plans. I know that we felt a huge loss when we made the decision to cancel our planned camp sessions. Because we were so busy planning for our alternate summer, we did not have time to process those sad feelings. We have heard from many campers who told us that, at different times during the summer, they realized how much they missed their friends, counselors and the sense of community they feel at Akeela. While we feel terribly that we played a part in the sadness of our campers and their families, it does remind us how lucky we are to be a part of such a special place. Perhaps 2020 will be the year that helps us appreciate everything we have.

We certainly felt lucky that we got to spend our summer up at camp with the staff members and families who joined us for Family Camp. Being on Miller Pond gave us a small sense of normalcy and enabled us to reconnect with that special place. Our staff arrived more than two weeks before our first set of campers and we spent that time getting the site ready. We worked hard preparing the tennis courts, pool, lake and art studio! The archery and golf nets had to get put up and all of our sports equipment had to be prepared. There was a lot of hard work accomplished by our team! Most importantly, our dedicated staff got a chance to take off their masks (after 2 negative COVID tests) and enjoy being a “pod” with their friends. We all appreciated the time we had together after feeling so isolated last spring.

Finally, our first autism/asperger’s family campers arrived and brought with them lots of energy and laughter. Our team was able to do what they love most – play and learn with kids and parents. For us, seeing camp inhabited with enthusiasm brought us so much joy and also some sadness; We really missed having our entire community together. While Chefs Trina and Angie made us some of our favorite camp food, the dining hall felt empty and too quiet. The lake was cool and, as always, was the center of lots of excitement and yet not having the slide out (because of COVID) was a constant reminder that this summer was different.

Still, those of us who were lucky enough to be together this summer relished our time at camp. Being with like-minded people is always restorative and this summer, that was even more true. Parents, campers and our staff formed lasting friendships and a true connection with our Akeela community. We truly missed all of our friends who couldn’t come up to Vermont this summer and we are so excited to be together in person on Miller Pond in 2021!

In case you didn’t see them, our dates for summer 2021:

  • 1st Session: Saturday June 26th – Monday, July 19th
  • 2nd Session: Thursday, July 22nd – Saturday, August 14th

If you’re the parent of a child with autism, asperger’s, another nvld or who is otherwise quirky, find out how to apply for camp next year or reach out to our staff today!

Connect With Our Directors


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!


From One Parent to Another

The past week and a half has been A LOT. (And has it only been a week and a half?) Like so many others, I’m sitting here at my desk in my home office. And in the background, I hear Eric helping our 5th grader with math homework, our younger daughter (in Kindergarten) is running up the stairs to show me the story she wrote and illustrated, I’m on my third cup of coffee and it’s just 9:30am. I haven’t showered. (And forget about makeup and doing my hair.) I’ve been on an average of about 3 Zoom calls a day (between work and checking up on my family and friends) and my iPhone has informed me that my screen time has increased by an hour and 42 minutes in the past week. Wow. That would be overwhelming if I felt secure that we, as a world community, were not suffering. If I were able to be together with friends, celebrate our upcoming holiday with family, travel for Spring Break with our kids – this still would feel hard. And yet… this is our new “normal”. To be honest, this isn’t a life I want to settle into for a long period of time. I’d prefer to feel more calm and less anxious.

As a working parent, it’s easy to feel like I’m not “good enough”. It often feels as if I can only excel in one area of life at a time. It’s work OR parenting, mothering OR partnering. But what this upheaval is teaching me is that – whatever I’m doing – it’s definitely enough. I don’t have to be great at everything, and certainly not perfect at anything.

Every day is not going to go well. There will be days where the kids don’t do anything educational. Days where we don’t get exercise or fresh air. We may eat chicken nuggets 2 days in a row. We will not fall apart. I’m sure many of you read the article in the NY Times, “I refuse to run a corona virus homeschool”. Reading it gave me permission to let go. Deep breath. We will get through this.

I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve been doing that have been helpful to me in the past week. (I’ll share the healthy habits and will just mention that in addition to these helpful habits, I’ve also been eating junk-food and watching too much mindless television…it’s all about balance, right?!)

Breathe

It’s so simple. We do it every few seconds. But sometimes, it’s important to do it with intention. I took a MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course at Penn a few years ago and have tried to dust off what I learned. It takes practice and patience but it really does work. Just 5 minutes a day to stop everything else and focus on my breath really helps. And if I can, 5 minutes in the morning and 5 before bed makes life feel less overwhelming. To start, I highly recommend letting someone guide you through a meditation. I love the free app called Insight Timer. You can look for what you want/need there based on theme AND time limit! (Start with short sessions!) In a few days, I’ll be leading a mindfulness session for our virtual Akeela community and you can come listen to what I find helpful in my own practice.

Discover a hobby or task that brings you joy

I love to bake bread. I love the fact that I have to stop and focus on one thing at a time. I love the way the dough feels and I love creating something that I can then share with others. (Maybe I’ll lead a bread baking session online for the Akeela community too!) What makes you feel good? Did you have a hobby a long time ago that made you feel that way? Maybe you had to stop because you didn’t have time. Try again now. Knitting? Writing? Singing? Playing an instrument? Yoga? Dance? Gardening. Don’t do it WITH anyone. Do it yourself and enjoy the solitude.

Engage in a task that makes you feel in control

Go through your closet and get rid of the clothes that don’t fit. If you’re like me, you have old suits from the 90’s that no longer fit, are out of style and are no longer needed! (I don’t know any camp directors who wear suits to work!!!) Maybe sorting through your Tupperware will make your cabinets feel roomier, and kids are great helpers with sorting! Have your kids look through their clothes and put a few bags aside for future donations.

In a time where we feel trapped and without choice, doing something that feels useful and organizing can give us the same internal sense of organization that we’re all craving now.

Get rest

I’ve heard from many people that they’re struggling to get a good night’s rest. Me too. I pride myself on getting a solid 8 hours a night of high-quality sleep. Well – that’s not currently the case. I’ve been tossing and turning this past week. A few thoughts about healthy sleep:

  • Keep your screens out of your bedroom. You should not be looking at a screen an hour before you want to fall asleep.
  • Try to meditate or stretch for 10 minutes before you get into bed.
  • Wake up at the same time every day. Our circadian rhythm is set by our wake time so it’s important that we stay on a regular schedule.
  • Get outside – sunlight is really important for sleep cycles and while you’re outside, get exercise! (But at least an hour before bed!)

Turn off the news

It’s hard not to become glued to our sources of news. We want to know what’s happening. But you know what? No one really knows. We need to wait and see and that’s not what we want to hear. Things are changing rapidly and I know I’m struggling to keep up. I’ve found that reading too much or watching too many news stories just amps up my anxiety. Take an inventory of where you are. Do you feel more anxious, grumpy, impatient, physically ill after engaging with news? Does reading about other people’s complaints, struggles, illnesses on Facebook make you feel worse? Then stop reading it! Just put it away. Take a break. Maybe tomorrow you’ll feel stronger, better, less hopeless.

Finally… hug your partner, your kids

Call a friend who makes you happy. I had a virtual cocktail hour with my cousins – the last time we were all together was for a funeral over a year ago. This was a perfect excuse! Find joy in the small things and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll need to remind yourself that this is temporary. When I was little and afraid of thunderstorms, my parents would get out a book by Mr. Rogers who said that thunder storms never last more than 15 minutes. (He’s really right, by the way!) We just need to weather the storm.


From Camper to Post-College: How Akeela Shaped Me

Hello, my name is Katerina, and I’m currently 24 years old. I can proudly say I was camper at Akeela for many years (until I aged out). For my guest post, I wanted to reflect on my experience as a camper at Camp Akeela and how the skills I learned there helped me continue to succeed in my life, even after my time at camp was finished.

Flashback to the summer of 2010, when Disney Channel Original Movies and trading friendship bracelets were childhood staples. That summer, I was one of the older campers, residing in Bunk 13. My bunk had just returned from our activities at the farm. It was fun, but for me one of my challenges was mess, so farm activities were a lot of hard work as well. I was relieved for my counselor to tell us it was free time; she told us we could play soccer or just sit in front of the cabin and hang out. I always liked being able to write in a journal. This particular day, my counselor encouraged me to try something new, so I agreed to play soccer for a bit first. It proceeded to downpour. We all had to run back to the cabin, some of us now soaked from running in the rain! To pass the time, we sang songs from the Hannah Montana movie, and I taught my bunkmates all the choreography from the movie.

I didn’t know it then, but in that hour of free time, I shaped a vital part of what made me who I am and the skills that make me unique. I learned that I could work in a team. I learned that I enjoy having a creative outlet, such as dance or music (rather than my bunkmates who found their outlets playing soccer or other more athletic activities). I also learned that even with my social challenges, I thoroughly enjoyed being with people, and even more so helping people.

Now skip forward to May 2017, and I am a graduating senior at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire. I have successfully lived in mainstream housing on campus. My major is Media Studies; where I learned how to write and make creative projects that can help people. (In my case, my senior capstone project was creating a short film about anxiety and living uniquely.) I have also choreographed and taught dance to college peers, and displayed my dances school-wide through college recitals. I created my own club on campus to encourage friends to get together on Friday nights to watch some TV shows and movies while catching up; my own version of what Akeela free time did for me. Now post-grad and in the workforce, I work full-time as a teacher in a daycare center. I get to help children of all abilities grow and learn how to be their best selves. Looking back, I would not be where I am today had I not been able to learn and develop skills through camp.

So to any Akeela campers and families (prospective or otherwise) reading this, I want to leave you with this thought. Being a camper influences your life in so many ways that go beyond the right now. It is more than just three weeks of camp. This is an opportunity for you to discover what makes you … well, you! You can learn all about the things you like to do, and some things you don’t like (and that’s okay, it’s just as important!) Lastly, and this helped me a lot, it is a chance to meet other people like you. Your differences and challenges can come with a lot of feelings, but being with other people who might feel the same as you and understand what you’re dealing with can make conquering your challenges that much less intimidating. Being a part of Camp Akeela shaped me into who I am, and it can do the same for you if you take on the challenge.


Akeela Schedule … Home Edition!

These are extremely hard times for everyone. With so much uncertainty, many of us feel more anxious than usual. No doubt, this is true for Akeela campers, too, as they tend to thrive when there is predictability and consistency … neither of which exist right now. That’s hard to cope with and we want to help in every way we can. Without schools, libraries, restaurants, you and your kids may feel trapped – so here are some ideas that might make your days feel more structured and predictable.

Camp is 3 months away but, with all this extra time, why not start practicing a camp schedule? Below is a version of the Akeela daily schedule, adjusted for home life (brought to you by your camp directors … who are also stuck at home with young kids!)


Daily “Camp” Schedule

7:30am       Wakeup & Morning Routine

  • Brush your teeth
  • Wash your face
  • Make your bed

8:00am       Breakfast
older kids can help with cooking/prep and younger kids can set the table. Everyone should help with clearing dishes and washing when possible.

8:30am       Clean-up

  • Tidy your room/space
  • Put away clean clothes
  • Make sure all dirty clothes are in your hamper
  • Put away any games/activities that are out

9:00am       Morning Huddle
What’s the plan for the day? Does everyone have what he/she needs? What is one thing you’re looking forward to?

9:15am       Activity One
Math, SS, Science, English/Reading, Foreign Language
(if you have school assignments, you can spread them out, one subject for each activity period.)

10:15am       Activity Two
See above

11:15am       Free Time!
Are their neighbors around? Play outside! Build a fort, a fairy house, paint rocks. Write a poem about nature. Draw a landscape. Make an obstacle course in your back yard. Go for a walk/run/bike ride around your neighborhood.

12:00pm       Lunch!
Again, everyone can help with setting up, cleanup….etc.)

12:45pm       Rest Hour
Quiet time alone in your room….read, rest, draw, listen to music….etc.

1:45am       Activity Three
More academics or:

  • Cooking lesson with a parent or older sibling
  • Life Skills: (learn how to….) Do laundry, wash dishes, wash a car, clean a bathroom, vacuum, mop, sweep
  • Practice a musical instrument
  • Art projects (from Amazon, pinterest….etc.)
  • More outside play/running, biking, walking

2:45pm       Snack!

3:00pm       Activity Four (Specialty)
Camper Choice! (choose from a list of options from your parents)

4:00pm       Activity Five (Specialty)
Camper Choice! (choose from a list of options from your parents)

5:00pm       Shower Hour
Shower, tidy up from the day – pick up any games/supplies

6:00pm       Dinner

7:00pm       Evening Meeting

  • Family Announcements: logistics, schedules, “business”
  • Announcements of recognition/appreciation
  • Suggestion Box

7:30pm       Evening Activity
Reading quietly, listening to a podcast together … whatever your family routine is before bed!

Bedtime!
Quiet reading/drawing in bed and lights out! 😉


We hope this helps give some structure to your time together and helps everybody get ready for a fantastic summer at camp!

– Debbie and Eric


Emily Bowen – Cabin Counselor, 2019

Why work at Akeela? It quite literally will change your life. For me, I was a soon-to-graduate Psychology major from LA when I applied to Akeela. I wanted a different and unique way to spend my summer, and once I got hired, I got nervous about what to expect. The second I arrived and was wholeheartedly embraced by staff, given a great week of training, then worked day-to-day with these kids, all my nerves and unsure thoughts flew out the window.

At Akeela, you work incredibly hard and face challenges, but you have so much support. Along with friends you immediately make during orientation, you have 3 other co-counselors living with you in your cabin, you have a head counselor to report to and assist when needed, and you have Debbie and Eric, the camp directors, who are more than willing to help with anything. You are living in rural Vermont without cell service all summer, which sounds like a turn-off. However, you are surrounded by gorgeous mountains, trees and fresh air and literally have to make connections with others instead of hiding behind your phone. You phone would also constantly distract you from being a good counselor; kids need attention, and I know that I highly benefited from not having my phone on me at work.

Akeela is truly a second home to me only after one summer. This community of amazing people are communicative, supportive, kind, and hilarious. The kids too are truly unique and admire everything you do, which is why I’ve always been drawn to summer camp. They are surrounded by other kids like them, and being given the opportunity to help them make connections, improve social skills, try new things, smile and laugh is seriously the best. I can’t go back to Akeela this summer, which breaks my heart, but I know for a fact that I’ll be back in the future. Apply today!! You won’t regret it.


Taylor Whitchurch, Camp Counselor – 2015-2019

Hi! I’m Taylor Whitchurch, a student teacher from the UK! The 2019 season was my 4th summer at Akeela, where I’ve been a swimming specialist, counselor and aquatics director. I’ve worked on both the Vermont and Wisconsin camps.

Away from camp I have recently completed my degree in Medical Sciences, and worked as a care support worker for adults with complex needs. I have a special interest in working with the ASD population, and have volunteered on a number of projects both at university and in my local community.

Before all of this came my Akeela experience. In 2015, my first summer, at the age of 19, I flew three and a half thousand miles away from my home and family to Boston. Summer camp is not a thing that we do in the UK, and I came with a number of preconceptions about what my experience would be. Long days by the pool, bare cabins and a relaxed atmosphere. Akeela was all of this. But it was also so much more. The community that we build at Akeela is something special. Every person feels supported, not only the campers but the councillors as well. The opportunities that I have been given at Akeela have allowed me to qualify as a lifeguard and develop as an educator and a leader within the community. It’s also allowed me to develop as a person. I am more empathetic towards those who think in a different way than I do, and have developed an appreciation of the amazing diversity that our campers display.

I tell people away from camp that my time at Akeela has been one of the defining experiences of my life. And it truly has. From discovering my future career path, networking with other professionals in the field and having just about the best time it’s possible to have, Akeela really has it all.


A Passion for Working With Differently Abled Campers – Courtney Smith, Cabin Counselor 2019

As someone whose passion is working with children with different abilities and having done so since high school, I knew that I wanted to continue working with these populations throughout my summer. I expected the typical summer camp experience — making friends, working with kids and maybe learning something about myself along the way. What I got from Akeela, however, was all of that and SO much more.

I’ve never been a part of such an inclusive, warm and welcoming community. Each day I felt inspired, supported and loved, not only by Debbie and Eric, but also my peers that I worked alongside for two months. I spent this summer learning from the most quirky, fun and free-spirited campers on the planet, while laughing harder, trusting deeper and allowing myself to be who I truly am as a person – someone I’ve been holding back on being for a very long time. I have Akeela to thank for every moment of that, so when I think back on all the moments from this past summer, I can’t help but get a bit emotional. While I was helping our campers, Akeela was helping me.

Akeela is so much more than just a summer camp, and so much more than just two months spent in the mountains of Vermont. It’s watching campers make friendships and develop social skills, and seeing those friendships reignited year after year. It’s late-night porch conversations when you feel everything you’ve done in a day is still just not quite enough. It’s reassurance that you’re doing an amazing job and that your campers do, in fact, really like you. Akeela is community and Akeela is home.