One of our six Core Values is that we are Inclusive. Many people associate this value with the way we support people who have a diagnosis such as Down Syndrome or Autism. A common view is that somehow these individuals are separate from the typical programming thus seeing our inclusivity as a program rather than a holistic approach to providing programming for people of all abiliites. Our approach is definitely the latter. We have created an experience where everyone participates together and not an “inclusion program.”
If you were to visit camp on a typical summer day (I use the word typical lightly as the camp day can be full of surprises), you would notice groups of children with their counselors playing, singing, swimming, splashing in the creek, going to activities, and more. What you would not see is a separate group of people who have disabilities off to the side or not in the mix of what everyone else is doing. We meet people where they are and provide support as needed.
Everyone who comes to camp has what we call support needs; it is part of being human. These needs vary from person to person. Every person at camp at some point receives support. Much of the support we provide is natural such as encouragement to try something new. Some individuals need a bit more and they can benefit from one to one support while others benefit from what we call floater or “sometimes” support. Support is always respectful, in tune with the needs of the participant, and happening throughout the typical day and activities at camp.
People often have questions about how we do what we do. The most common are asked and answered below.
How do we know who needs what kind of support?
Our first peek into someone’s needs is most often the registration form. Designed to gather information that will help us get to know individuals before they come to camp, these forms often give us everything we need to know. Common support needs we see on these forms are homesickness, ADHD, food needs, allergies, sleepwalking, nervousness about camp, and bed wetting. The entire summer staff are trained in how to support campers in all of these. Other support needs listed on the form are directly connected to a specific diagnosis such as Autism, Down Syndrome, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and other diagnoses. When these are listed on the form we reach out to parents for more information to learn as much about the participant as we can to insure they are well supported at camp so that they are able to have the best week of their summer (which is the goal for all participants).
In addition to gathering information via the forms and additional conversations via phone and email, we encourage all families to visit camp. We have an open house each May and we also schedule tours upon request. Seeing camp in person, prior to a participant’s session, can often ease nerves for parents and their children. In addition, meeting with participants who may need a little more support, helps us to get a visual of how they might interact with the camp environment and camp people. All information gathered is shared with the staff who need to know, otherwise the information is confidential.
What types of support are provided at camp?
Our goal is to support as needed; we strive to not over support and definitely not under support. A group of our staff are taught how to support individuals with self care, daily living, emotional/behavioral, physical, social, and medical needs all while “reading” what a participant needs based on their unique personality and experiences. In addition, staff members are taught to not assume what someone might need based on their diagnosis but rather to build a relationship with the individual so they can more accurately understand their needs.
Does everyone do the same activities?
Yes and no. Everyone has the opportunity to do the same activities with a few exceptions such as at the horse barn and high ropes related to age requirements. Another exception is program dependent. For example, Traditional Camp has different activities then Explore Camp but anyone signed up for any of our programs has the opportunity to participate fully. Sometimes we do see participants opt out and that is okay. Not everyone wants to go on high ropes and some are allergic to horses. Each activity has multiple ways people can participate so there really isn’t a standard requirement of ability needed. If needed, a staff member can support participants so they are able to participate fully. There are also some built in adaptations such as an adapted bow at Archery and a platform for mounting a horse at the barn. Both are used by people who have various ability levels.
Why is CYO Camp inclusive?
This is one of my favorite questions. We know the camp experience to be essential in human development and believe wholeheartedly that anyone who would like the camp experience should be able to have it and it is part of our mission and our Catholic faith to make that happen.
“In 1978 the pastoral statement issued by the US Bishops stated, “It is not enough to merely affirm the rights of people with disabilities. We must actively work to make them real in the fabric of modern society. Recognizing that individuals with disabilities have a claim to our respect because they are persons, because they share in the one redemption of Christ, and they contribute to our society by their activity within it, the Church must become an advocate for and with them.”
At CYO Camp we are so much more than an “inclusion program.” We are intentional in our programming and training to include people of all abilities so that anyone who wants this amazing experince can have it. Being inclusive means we all participate together and all are respected and valued for our whole selves no matter our needs.
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