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!

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.

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


Akeela (VT) Winter Newsletter

The latest edition of the Akeela VT Circular is here!

In this edition of our newsletter:

  • Planners for parents/guardians and campers to help you get ready for camp
  • A recap – and photos – of our Winter Weekend reunion
  • Facility update and introduction to our new Site Manager
  • Camper and Staff news updates
  • A few introductions to 2020 senior staff members

Read the entire newsletter here!

You can also find this note from Debbie and Eric in the newsletter:

Greetings from wintery(ish) Philadelphia! Is it possible that it’s already February? This is the time of year that we start counting down the days until we’ll be back together in Vermont. We have been extremely busy meeting new Akeela families and welcoming them into our camp family. Meeting all of them leaves us feeling so lucky that we are a part of a community that is filled with interesting, funny, smart and kind people.

Speaking of kindness, February is “Kindness Month” and we wanted to talk about all of the ways we see kindness happen at camp every day. We also want to remind you that, even though you’re not with us in Thetford, you can continue to carry on the Akeela spirit of kindness at home. Here are some reminders and suggestions.

At camp, you were kind by:

  • Pitching in with Dining Hall Duty for the good of the larger community

  • Making an announcement at evening meeting about a friend who was helpful or successful

  • Cheering on a friend who was climbing the rock wall

  • Saying, “Nice job!” to a friend who won a game of GaGa

  • Sending a letter home telling your family you’re thinking of them

At home, you can demonstrate your kindness by:

  • Helping a sibling make his/her bed before school

  • Inviting a classmate to join you for lunch

  • Asking someone over to your house to hangout

  • Calling a friend from camp to say hello

  • Going to visit a camp friend

As you’ll read in the camper updates, many of you are getting together with your camp friends and that makes us so happy! It takes some work to maintain friendships – especially when you don’t go to school together. If you’re someone who doesn’t like talking on the phone, send an email! Tell your camp friend what you’re up to, what you’re looking forward to in the coming months and what you can’t wait to do when you’re back at camp this summer!

We’re excited to see you back on the shores of Miller Pond soon – time flies when you’re dreaming of camp!

Debbie and Eric

Camp Akeela (WI) Winter News 2020

The latest edition of the Akeela WI Circular is here!

In this edition of our newsletter:

  • Family planner for parents/guardians and campers to help you get ready for camp
  • Year-round professional development
  • Winter birthdays for campers and staff
  • Akeela Camper Referral Program
  • Upcoming Akeela travel plans (with camper reunion date!)

Read the entire newsletter here!

You can also find this note from Kevin, Kristin, and Mike in the newsletter:

Dear Akeela Families,

We are officially in the “dog days” of winter. After it took forever for the chilly winter weather to settle in (we were not complaining about that!), it seemingly has now arrived. This makes our days together at Akeela in the warm sun seem so far away. One thing we’ve learned is that while camp seems far away right now, time is going to FLY and summer will be here before we know it. Soon enough your family will be working on camp forms (woohoo!), planning out your packing for camp, and then campers will take to planes, trains, and automobiles to get to camp for Opening Day!

How are you getting ready for camp? This time of year, we spend a lot of our time meeting new families and professionals as we begin welcoming the new families joining the Akeela community. Kevin has spent a lot of time on the road this fall and winter at fairs and conferences spreading the word about camp, while Mike and Kristin are busy meeting many new campers and their families as they prepare for their first summer at camp! We feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to think about and share camp with others every day. That helps us get through the especially tough “dog days” of winter.

In this newsletter you’ll find some ways you can start preparing for summer. They’ll help you (both parents and campers) get excited about your upcoming Akeela experience and get a better feel of what to expect. Many of us feel better and more comfortable with something, especially something new, when we take time to intentionally prepare for it. We hope the ideas and other notes in this newsletter will spark some anticipation and preparation for the amazing summer we’re about to share together! If there is anything we can do to help make your transition to Akeela a smooth one, whether you’re a fourth-year camper or this will be your first year at camp, please let us know. We are here to help and can’t wait to spend our summer with you!

Kevin, Kristin, and Mike

How Summer Camp Teaches Social Skills

When I talk to new families about Camp Akeela, I’m often asked, “How do you teach social skills”? I think what they want to know is, “Who’s curriculum are you using”, or “What is the structure of your social skills groups”? We believe those questions don’t necessarily get to the root of what we’re doing at Akeela.

As a school counselor, I spent years leading “social skills groups” in my Middle School office with kids (many with a diagnosis of ASD or NVLD) who needed more social support. I believe the students enjoyed their time with me and their peers and they certainly had an opportunity to practice socializing with students who were in their grade. But, I’m not sure how well those learned skills really translated back to the field, the lunchroom, the class. What was really missing, were chances to give my students feedback in the moment and then an opportunity to practice using the advice I could give.

Social Skills at Camp Akeela

Camp – ANY good camp – allows for that. Camp provides kids with an opportunity to live with other children their age. They have to work on compromise, sharing, respecting the time and boundaries of their peers. If they’re at the right camp for them, they are meeting other children who want to connect with them and get to know them. The camp community allows campers to practice social skills. At an overnight camp that practice is 24/7 and includes less structured time in the bunk, meals and evening times.

At Akeela – this is our focus. When we created Akeela in 2008, we were intentional about creating as many opportunities as possible for children to connect, have fun AND get constant and consistent feedback from both staff and peers 24/7. They can then practice making use of the feedback they’re getting over and over while they’re at camp. THIS type of teaching is what “sticks” – it’s what transfers back to home and school and extracurriculars. Are “social skills groups” helpful? Sure. But camp is even MORE helpful – especially when the camp is specifically designed to provide kids with an opportunity to focus on their peer relationships and then practice making those connections even stronger. That’s what we do at Akeela.

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