Summertime fun for all
Summertime means camp time for most children.
And children deserve to enjoy the careless freedom that comes along with the season regardless of their abilities.
At WindReachs Explorers Summer Camp, both able bodied and disabled children get to enjoy the sunny days of summer, whether on the sensory trail at the facility or cooling off when the facilitys playground turns into a mini water park.
We have a large facility here at WindReach and there are a lot of things that the children can do here, explains Natasha Dowling, WindReachs education and recreation coordinator. The facility is also all-inclusive so everyone can participate in all of the activities.
While children at the camp get to explore all that WindReach has to offer, including adaptive sports, the petting zoo and gardening, they do go on some off-site excursions to places that are fully accessible like Dolphin Quest and Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo.
Fridays are everyones favourite when we have wet and wild in the playground. The playground basically becomes a water park, Ms Dowling says.
And this year, Eddie Ming will be introducing the campers to drumming and percussion.
The camp began in 2007 out of a necessity for a place that could provide for disabled children.
The camp initially started because there was nothing on the Island for kids with disabilities and their parents were having to ship them overseas to summer camps at great expense. We wanted to provide something that included both special needs children and children without special needs, explains Ms Dowling.
At the time, Ms Dowling was working in the school system as a support teacher and volunteering with WindReach.
I worked with Jeanie Flath at WindReach as a volunteer to write a programme for the camp, she says. She came to work full-time for the charity in 2010.
As many children in Bermuda are not often exposed to those with special needs, the aim of the camp is to encourage that interaction.
We aim to break down barriers as in the past there has been a stigma around those with special needs. A gap that normally would have been there is being bridged, says Ms Dowling.
WindReach Executive Director, Erica Fulton adds, The camp is also a great way to build their confidence. Because of the integration aspect and the fact that they are doing the same thing as able bodied children makes them feel that they can go into any environment and can do the same thing just maybe a little differently.
Starting that awareness from a young age means it will be carried through adulthood. You realise from a young age that we are all the same we have the same wants and needs it helps them learn to respect and understand each other.
Along with the children that participate in the camp, some of the counsellors also have disabilities, so the benefits of interaction are for both campers and counsellors.
However, because of the additional needs of some of the campers there is a large ratio of three counsellors to 10 children at the camp.
In providing a camp for children with and without special needs, one of the bigger challenges that we face is trying to keep the costs of the camp down due to the increased need for staff, particularly if we have campers who require more one on one assistance. We are so grateful to Validus, Argo and Friends of Hope Academy who continue to support this programme generously, says Ms Fulton.
And while some children are shocked at the beginning of camp when they see they will be playing with children with disabilities, Ms Dowling says they are often the children that are begging their parents to sign them up for another week.
The camp runs from August 6 to August 31 in four weekly sessions. Parents can either sign their child up for one week or the entire month. The cost is $250 per week.
Space is limited to 50 children in order to maximise the experience for the participants, says Ms Dowling, and parents are advised to sign up as soon as possible as the camps are often filled up by June.
With WindReach and the camp what we want to see happen is fostering relationships between able bodied and disabled children so they have life-long experiences as friends, says Ms Dowling.
Ms Fulton adds, There are a lot of organisations out there doing great things for people with special needs and we are an organisation providing a facility and enhancing the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. We are part of that whole scheme of things as many children come to WindReach from other organisations.