At Camp Wamp we provide a safe space for physically disabled children to share and grow and have life changing experiences. We encourage special needs children to be uniquely themselves while exploring nature. One way we learn about our campers are conversations around a campfire. Here are the typical conversations we hear around the campfire from kids with physical disabilities.

“I am just like any other 15 year old girl, I just can’t run”. “ I am here, I understand you, and you can understand me when I use my device so how am I so different?” These are just a part of the hundreds of conversations we have with our campers each summer. They tell us what they really feel, and share the obstacles they face in their school, home, and everyday lives. These are all things that nearly every child and young adult shares. The only difference for these children is they often do not have as many friends like them, or people who understand them enough to talk to about what is happening in their world. Let’s be real, most children without a disability do not really know how to connect with kids who have disabilities.

This is not a new challenge our society is facing and it is not always just children that do not know how to approach or connect with someone in the disabled community. While this obstacle is not something that society can overcome in a day, week, month , or even a year, it does not mean we should not be doing something about it now.

Changing how we think and learning how to overcome obstacles are two of the most important skills that are learned by campers and counselors alike  while they are at summer camp. Andy Pritikin, in a recent blog post for the  American Camp Association wrote, “Camp is like a vitamin supplement containing the vital things our kids’ lives are missing: Face-to-face interactions, collaborating together in groups, and navigating the ups and downs of relationships. It’s also a place where kind, caring people other than parents help teach them the skills of life like making friendships, using integrity, self-regulation and independence.”

Traditional summer camps have swimming, arts and crafts, athletic events, talent shows, cooking on a fire, etc. .Each of these activities inspire growth in teamwork, communication, soft skills, overcoming adversities and more. Our question is, why can’t this be done by every child… able bodied children and disabled children. The answer is, we believe it can and, in doing so, it changes EVERYTHING.

While disabled camping or special needs camping is not a new or revolutionary idea, it is a growing and ever changing field. Disabled camping is no longer just respite care for special needs children, it has evolved into a place where all children have the opportunity to learn, discover, and grow.

Imagine it, a 14 year old CIT (counselor-in-training)  and a disabled 12 year old camper roasting marshmallows around the same fire. What do you think they would talk about? We can tell you. They talk about who can burn their marshmallow the fastest or why they have to take a shower after getting out of the lake, because they were just in the water so aren’t they clean enough? They are just two kids hanging out roasting marshmallows. These conversations are natural and lead to both children being more open to the world around them. It inspires them have a sense of adventure, optimism, increased self-reliance, and to be more ambitious. It creates an atmosphere where children are safe to learn and grow because they are seen, heard, understood, and accepted for who they truly are. Will you join us in the mission of creating a change in the world where people are seen first and the disability second?

Happy Camping!

Annie “Doc” Warner