Written by: Bianca Hernandez, Development Associate
I’ve only worked for Camp Aranzazu for three years, but I can say with full confidence that our program team helps us stand out among other camps that serve campers with special needs or chronic illnesses. As the ACA marketing director reminded us this spring, our staff is our “special sauce.” Our program team consists of two certified recreational therapists serving as our camp director and assistant camp director and one program manager with several years of experience in special education. Our fearless programming trio including Amelia Haslam Smith, Amanda Praet, and Carleigh Mitchell give life and purpose to every single activity our campers are exposed to at Camp Aranzazu. AND they train an amazing team of young people to facilitate activities and support all the campers who come through the camp gates.
Amelia and Amanda are both certified therapeutic recreation specialists. And if you’re like me (before I started at camp), a certified therapeutic recreation specialist sounds fantastic — but, you might be wondering what exactly that means and why recreational therapy is important to Camp Aranzazu. As described by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification, “[r]ecreational therapy, also known as therapeutic recreation, is a systematic process that utilizes recreation and other activity-based interventions to address the assessed needs of individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions, as a means to psychological and physical health, recovery, and well-being. The purpose of the RT process is to improve or maintain physical, cognitive, social, emotional and spiritual functioning in order to facilitate full participation in life.” (You can find more information about CTRS at https://www.nctrc.org/) By combining their passions for special populations and therapeutic recreation, Amelia and Amanda are able to provide a unique form of therapy for our campers that cannot be replicated in a hospital, clinic, or school environment.
Carleigh, our program manager, discovered her passion for working with special populations while working at Camp Aranzazu as an Activity Leader during the summers of 2016 and 2017. After graduating from Texas A&M University Corpus Christi in August 2017 with a B.S. in Kinesiology, Carleigh coached multiple Special Olympics teams and worked for Corpus Christi ISD as an Adapted Physical Education Para Educator. Carleigh joined our team right before our summer camping session in 2019 and has helped Camp Aranzazu continue to grow and serve more campers each year — she even puts together her own partner camp with a group of students in Corpus Christi ISD’s special education department!
As trusted and beloved leaders at Camp Aranzazu, Amelia, Amanda, and Carleigh each bring their own personal love for the program and our campers into everything they do at camp. Each of them strive to ensure campers feel loved, accepted, and valued from the moment they make their way through our gates. Camp Aranzazu just wouldn’t be the same without these three caring and talented women!