While our staff understands the work we do and the need for our unique form of therapeutic recreation, our families and partners are the people who witness the impact of camp first hand for children and adults with special needs and chronic illnesses. I want to share a piece Cindy Thomas, a teacher at The Tuttle School at Briarwood and long-time camp partner, wrote for our staff to use as a way to show the importance of camp and the changes she’s witnessed in students who spend time at Camp Aranzazu. In a letter to camp president, Virginia Ballard, Cindy writes:
The special needs students and their teachers of the Tuttle School at Briarwood have been blessed to attend Camp Aranzazu since it opened in 2006. The teachers of the Tuttle School are passionate about taking our students to camp for a number of reasons. The reasons are as numerous and varied as the students we teach. One of them was Thomas, a tall and handsome, non-verbal, autistic young man who enjoyed the climbing wall so much his parents hung a picture of him on it in his bedroom. They told me he smiles every time he sees it.
Wisdom was another young man, who climbed to the top of the tower on his first visit to camp. He was hesitant to come down the zip line, though. No problem! At camp, everyone does what he or she feels comfortable with: we call it Challenge by Choice. Well, the next year Wisdom came back to camp after mentally preparing himself by watching zip-lining videos. After climbing the wall he came joyfully down the zip line.
His words were “Mrs. Thomas, I have conquered my fears.” I saw this confidence carry over into every area of his life.
I could go on and on with stories like these, as well as the many comments that the parents of some of these wonderful kids have had to say about camp, and what it has meant to their children and families:
Caroline’s mother writes ~ For Caroline it has been gaining independence — socially and emotionally. Plus, she loves being with her friends. It’s like a long sleep over for her, which she really never gets to do at home. She gets to be a typical teenager, which is so important!
Alayna’s mother writes ~ Camp has been the best thing ever for Alayna and our family. It has allowed her to feel independent and enjoy the fun things that other typical kids get to enjoy. It has given her parents (us) a nice break. Last summer, she had such a blast that she said she wants to go for a longer period this summer. We are so thankful for Camp Aranzazu for offering such a wonderful program for Alayna. She gets to experience things that she has never been able to in the past.
Noah’s mom says ~ Noah starts asking about going to Camp Aranzazu soon after just finishing! It has been on his calendar for several years because he’s so engaged in and by the friendly, inclusive, active, and for him, magical experience. His enthusiasm for Camp Aranzazu is infectious; like a warm laugh, it engages all of us! Pick-up day is bittersweet because even in the few hours we’re there, we experience the warmth that makes leaving hard. So, we know why he soon starts asking about next year!
That same thought is echoed by the teachers who go to camp with their students:
“I have been in camp environments for years, from going to camp as a kid, to being a camp counselor in college, but Camp Aranzazu has completely blown my camp experience out of the water. The staff and counselors are the definition of present. The way they love our students encourages me to love them harder, too. Our week at camp in Rockport is one of the highlights of my entire year. Cheers to you, Camp Aranzazu!”
“Camp Aranzazu is like home away from home. Everyone makes you feel like family. After they meet you one time they remember your name and go out of their way to always make you feel special. From the time you arrive until the time you leave you get this warm feeling in your heart that stays a lifetime.”
“There are so many great things to say about Camp Aranzazu. It is an unbelievably beautiful place, with fun to be had at every turn. The activities are unique and inclusive, with something to offer for everyone. As lovely as the setting is, and as exciting as the adventures are, the thing that makes Camp Aranzazu so special is the staff. From the moment we arrive at Camp Aranzazu, my campers know they are in a place where they are loved and celebrated by everyone around them. The staff at Aranzazu have a genuine passion for what they do, and it shows in the way they interact with each camper. Whether it is sitting down at the lunch table to chat about a favorite singer or movie, playing backup dancer in the talent show, or shouting words of encouragement from the bottom of the rock wall, the Aranzazu staff radiates positivity and kindness at all times. Campers leave with a sense of confidence and accomplishment, and also great anticipation for next year---when they can come back again to see their “camp family” at Aranzazu!”
Needless to say, missing in-person camp due to Covid-19 was heartbreaking for us all. Students, teachers, and parents alike are thrilled for our group to go back (with many precautions in place) in the summer of 2021! The difference Camp Aranzazu has made in so many lives is immeasurable, and can only be expressed in the joy that it has brought to all of us.
Like Cindy said, we are THRILLED to welcome back the students and teachers from the Tuttle School at Briarwood this summer after having to cancel last year’s in-person summer camping season!
To our Camp SOAR friends — we’ll see you all soon!
The Tuttle School at Briarwood is a school for children with intellectual disabilities. You can learn more about The Tuttle School here.