Asher is a long time camper who has autism. What is noticeable about Asher is that he wanders and very rarely hangs out with the other kids in his group. He always seems happy enough with his one to one counselor and a bit of redirection. His experience is “inclusive enough.” Then, Bill enters the picture; Bill totally gets Asher which is evident by how Asher loves to tell Bill jokes. It is even clearer one afternoon when Asher is again wandering. His group is playing basketball and he is not into it. His preferred activity? Cloud watching. He wandered just a little way away and found a grassy, soft spot to lay down and stare up at the sky.
His one to one counselor, Bill, could have told Asher to get up and to come play, he could have told Asher that it is time for basketball but instead he lay on the ground next to Asher and asked him what he saw. It seemed pretty uneventful for Asher; he was just being Asher, but the other campers and counselors noticed and one by one they lay on the ground as well and some pretty cool observations were made and chatted about. All of sudden Asher was a part of something that he created and that others could be included.
Kudos to Bill for embracing this moment as this was the beginning of something significant for Asher and for the others as the boys now had common ground, a connection, a place to begin a friendship. Asher was no longer the boy who didn’t stay with the group; he was now the boy who saw dinosaurs and monster trucks in the clouds and when you are an 11 year old boy that is pretty darn cool.
This is one of our stories that encapsulate the meaning of inclusive programming at camp. While we have support and adaptions at the ready it really is the individual person and his or her approach to a child or a group of children that brings the nature of inclusion alive. Bill chose to create an environment of inclusion. He chose the activity that brought everyone in. It was not just about Asher. It was about supporting the group about bringing them together.
Yes, at camp we are known for our support and inclusion of people who have disabilities or specific diagnosis like Asher and it is quite a beautiful thing however we don’t consider that the full story. Our inclusive core value is about everyone. It is about the sense of belonging felt at camp. It is about allowing people to show up and be themselves and yes, sometimes, people need support. The truth is we all need support sometimes. Camp embraces this idea and provides an environment of inclusiveness whether a person has a disability or not. It is one of the core values that make camp, camp.
Asher still comes to camp; he is 14 now. He has become kinda known for his quirky sense of humor. He makes people laugh and not just his one to one counselor. He stays with his group a bit more these days, often on the edge of the activity but camp is home to him. He knows he is welcome and he can be himself.
Angi K Sullivan
CYO Camp Co-Director
When I was a kid the transition from summer to school year was wrapped in shopping trips for clothes and supplies, a half day to start the semester and a new bed time (yuck). Maybe it was the same for you. I’m aware that it isn’t all that different these days as kids and families everywhere are in some way or another making way for new routines which I have noticed lately is marked by the posting of first day of school pictures on Facebook and Instagram. I love these as tokens of memories to be treasured as we have this front row seat to watch our friend’s children grow from year to year. It’s good stuff.
A transition is also happening at CYO Camp. It goes a little like this.
Our last summer campers depart at 2pm on the last Friday of our last summer session. After we wish our last camper a “happy rest of the summer” we then go into super freaking (cleaning/organizing) and flipping camp with our summer staff of about 70 people! It is kind of a big place! Some equipment and supplies are put away until next summer; others are re-invented or adapted for a school year purpose. After we clean, we gather to commemorate the summer with a staff closing dinner, a slide show, a campfire and the unveiling of the newest touch board that will take its place among the others at the end of the evening. The VERY next day we welcome the first group of many to kick off our school year. It is a fast and furious physical transition of our space, our programming and us.
This transition of course isn’t new to us as each year we busy ourselves with the work needing to be done to create CYO Camp experiences for all of our participants and within this we are reminded of the gifts of all seasons as we leave one and enter the other. We reflect (quickly) on the passing season as we dive into the new one. We love summer; it brings warm weather, outdoor adventures and a celebration of people ages 5 up through college age. People who come to camp and fill the hills with songs, play, dance and prayer! Summer camp weeks last six days and the work day isn’t done at 5pm. This is an incredible, abundant energy that embodies so much of what CYO Camp offers. It is a beautiful time and when that time is over we often feel accomplished and ready to move on to the new people and programs of the school year which is also a beautiful time that has its own incredible energy. The school year season brings new schedules, hours of hosting and leading groups of all ages in faith, outdoor education, retreats, and challenge low and high. It is a welcoming of people of all ages to be a part of the mission of CYO Camp.
What a whirl wind our transition from summer to school year is and I can honestly say we wouldn’t trade it for the world! It sometimes gets messy in the middle, and it is hard and hot work but we accept it as a gift. Moving quickly from one time and space to another is important; our lists of to do’s and decisions to be made move us forward in providing the CYO Camp experience for all our people.
As Nancy Levin wrote, “Honor the space between no longer and not yet.” And we definitely honor it all.
Angi K Sullivan