Those We Serve: Gabriel
Located at Camp Togowauk in Westfield, BHN The Carson Center’s Kamp for Kids™ offers children and young adults – both with and without disabilities – an opportunity to experience growth, inclusion and fun in a summer camp setting. Kamp’s focus is on personal achievement and building friendships, while having fun in a safe, non-competitive environment. Founded over 40 years ago by Judy Hoyt as the first and only camp of its kind in the region, Kamp has served more than 6,000 youth from various backgrounds.
When Gabriel arrived at Kamp for Kids™, he was anxious. He’d never been to summer camp before and didn’t know what to expect. He found himself surrounded by faces he didn’t recognize. Gabriel couldn’t communicate verbally with his camp counselor due to his autism, and his anxiety prevented him from forming the signs he used at home and school. Overwhelmed, Gabriel began to cry. He heard his counselor mention something about music and games, but he couldn’t fully process her words over the stress he was feeling. After a few minutes, he managed to follow his counselor to what she called the Quiet Room: a cozy room with soft carpets on the floor and walls filled with soft toys and pillows. In this comfortable space, he was able to relax a little bit, but leaving the Quiet Room was still too stressful for him. He spent almost his entire day inside and cried as he boarded the bus.
Gabriel’s second day was different right from the start. When he got off the bus, he had two counselors waiting to greet him. As they told him what activities he would be able to try that day, they held up a visual schedule for him to look at, complete with the names and pictures of each activity. They reinforced their speech with sign prompts that he was familiar with and responded to the signs he gave them. If he became anxious about the scheduling of a preferred activity, his staff would use “First/Then” statements to help him stay on track. A counselor-in-training even joined him throughout the day to sing his favorite camp songs!
By the end of his time at Kamp, Gabriel was one of the most popular campers in his group. During Rec time, everyone wanted to be on Gabriel’s team and cheered him on as he played. On the Arts & Crafts porch, campers loved to sit next to him as he colored in his masterpieces. On occasion, he still became a bit overwhelmed and would signal to his counselors that he needed a break in the Quiet Room or on the swing-set. After a few minutes, he would re-join his group and continue with his day.
At most summer camps, Gabriel’s first day would have also been his last. They simply would not have been able to provide him with the individual support that he needed to thrive. Kamp for Kids’ favorable staffing ratios and extensive staff training allow Kamp to provide services to children who need more support.