Many people think you would require a qualification of some sort to be able to work at a Special Needs Camp for the summer. Believe me, working at a special needs camp is like earning a qualification in itself.
For the past three summers, I have worked at Wisconsin Badger Camp (two summers as a counselor and one as leadership staff). WBC is a summer camp which provides recreational outdoor experiences for adults and children with intellectual and physical disabilities. Nobody will ever be turned away from WBC, regardless of the severity of their disability. A special needs camp is a place of belonging, where campers feel loved, cared for and accepted for who they are.
From the moment campers leave at the end of their week-long session, they are already eagerly awaiting their return the following summer. For many campers, it is the one week of the year where they leave their parents/caregivers/care home. All staff at special needs camps strive to make this one week, the best week of the campers’ lives.
So you may wonder what a typical day at a summer camp is like, let alone a special needs summer camp where programmes may need to be adapted. Typically the day went somewhat like this:
7:15 am: wake up (or if you are like me in the mornings and require a little encouragement it could be later).
7:45-8:15: Morning meds (you accompany your camper group to the med window)
8:15-9 am: Breakfast
9-9:50: Pictures/Session 1
10-10:50: Session 2
11-11:50: Session 3
12-12:15: Noon Meds
1-2 pm: Noon rest
2-2:50pm: Session 4
3-3:50pm: Session 5
4-4:50pm: Session 6
5-5:15: Dinner meds
5:15-6 pm: Dinner
6:30-8 pm: Evening activity
8 pm: Evening meds
9 pm: Lights out
This was the structure for my camp, however, all camps will differ in terms of a typical daily routine. Daily activities included arts and crafts, swimming, nature, recreation, music, camping excursions, hiking, water carnival, ice-cream social and talent shows. Evening activities consisted of director’s night, counselor’s night, Badger Olympics and Badger Ball. Depending on the day, the weather and your camper group, activities might not always go to plan, so it’s important for counselors to be flexible and creative in these situations.
As a counselor for two years, it was incredible to work with such a diverse range of campers with varying levels of ability, behaviours and needs on a weekly basis. My campers were as young as 10 and as old as 90. It was so interesting to get to know each camper individually and always accommodate them. At the beginning of the summer, the prospect of personal care frightened me a lot as I wasn’t used to it. However, after three years of getting used to toileting, showering and feeding at camp, personal care is now amongst my strongest points.
Camp will really help your overall mindset to change and you really begin to see the world and everyone around you differently. Something that is also amazing about camp is the amount of support that is available. Whether you are struggling with your campers, are feeling homesick or just need a chat, there is always someone who you can talk to. Everyone is in the same boat at camp and all staff will become your 2nd family.
For my third summer at camp, I was part of the leadership staff team as Camper Coordinator. Instead of being responsible for a group of campers, I was in charge of all counselors and their campers. I helped to assist them with personal care and behaviour management, as well as being an overall support model.
If I had to describe a special needs summer camp in three words they would be: rewarding, life-changing and happiness. The bonds you form not only with the staff but also with your campers are like no other. At the end of a session, every counselor is holding back the tears saying goodbye to their camper groups. These reasons are why I recommend new counselors to work at a Special Needs Camp.
Whether you love it or hate it, everyone is in the same area for three months and all staff will become your family. I am lucky to say that many of my closest friends are the ones I have made at camp over my three summers. Anyone considering to work at a Special Needs Camp, I could not recommend it enough. You will gain so much experience, form unforgettable bonds and have the best summer(s) of your life – Long Live Adventure!
If you’re ready to make a difference next summer, apply here to start your application.