Forty campers and more than 50 volunteers gathered at Tall Oaks Conference Center in Lawrence, KS from July 28 – 31 to participate in the 2010 Camp Encourage. Established to meet the needs of individuals between the ages of 8-18 who are on the autism spectrum, Camp Encourage provides four days and three nights of camp filled fun and learning for participants.
Susan Autism, family resource specialist for the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders and a registered nurse, served as a clinical staff volunteer at this year’s camp.
“I was very impressed by all aspects of the way Camp Encourage was implemented.” Austin said, of her experience at the camp. “The camp was extremely well organized with a positive, creative and practical approach to activities and behavior management.”
A primary goal of Camp Encourage is to provide campers with opportunities for relationship development, recreation and relaxation. To meet these goals the camp offers a wide range of traditional camp related activities, including horse back riding, archery, fishing, swimming and singing by the campfire. It also offers participates in an opportunity to step outside of their comfort zone by sailing down a zip line at maximum speed.
“Getting to see kids on the zip line was totally awesome. “ Austin said.
As a nurse, Austin provided medical services at the camp, including giving a small group of 13-15 year old boys their daily medications. She became very attached to her group and enjoyed getting to know them as individuals.
“One of my favorite activities was participating in my cabin’s social group, which was held each day after breakfast. “ she said.
She also enjoyed watching her group develop bonds with one another and with the volunteers working at the camp.
“There were a great number and quality of volunteers.“ said Austin, “ I like the use of peer role models and the way former campers with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can and occasionally do return as volunteers.”
When asked why she chose to volunteer for Camp Encourage, Austin replied, “I decided to volunteer because I had been a camp counselor for special needs kids when I was in my late teens and wanted to be a camp nurse ever since I became a nurse years later. I heard about Camp Encourage from a colleague and knew it was going to be a good one.”
Because Camp Encourage proved to be not only good but exellent, Austin has taken the initiative to help the camp’s founders Kelly (Tebbenkamp) Lee, M.S.Ed and Kaye Otten, Ph.D increase the number of slots offered at the camp by helping them with the development of measurable outcomes for the camp. She is currently working with Thompson Center faculty to see if there are ways that they can assist in creating measureable outcomes. With these outcomes to include in their grant proposals, the camp would be able to increase funding and add more slots to the camp’s roster. 40 kids had to be turned away from this year's camp because there weren't enough resources to accommodate them.
When asked if she planned to volunteer for the camp next year, Austin replied, “I do plan to volunteer because I enjoyed it so much – it was an interesting and rewarding experience. “
To learn more about Camp Encourage visit their website. Camp Encourage is a not-for-profit organization.