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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Picked Mo up from Tall Oaks today where she was finishing up Camp Encourage for the second year in a row.

This is so fantastically huge, if you don't have a kid with autism, you can't possibly imagine what a big deal this is. These are kids, my younger daughter included, who typically never even spend the night at a grandparent's house (she did when Grampa D was alive, but he was an exceptional grandparent).

These are the kids that in many if not most cases, never get taken to church because their parents assume (rightly) that most churches wouldn't know what to do with a kid like this in the Sunday school room or anywhere else.

Don't get me wrong: we love our kids on the spectrum. We'd do anything for them, same as with any other kid, but when you deal with issues like flight risk, insomnia, seizures, pica (eating stuff that ain't food), obsessive compulsive behaviors, impaired social skills (in some cases to the extent of nearly no verbal communication), you're talking about some high maintenance kiddos.

In other words, kids that in all likelihood will grow up without the experience of summer camp.

But thanks to the absolutely saintly efforts of dozens of volunteers (putting in literally thousands of hours) and a dedicated core non-profit organization, Camp Encourage makes summer camp a reality for these kids. And they're hoping to expand to two sessions next year because of all the kids on the waiting list who didn't get in this year.

Mo got to ride a horse (she's a hard kid to question, but after quizzing her, I think the horse's name was Sadie). I gather the horse was beautiful and Mo was 'very high up' riding her. Mo got to swim, fish, climb to a platform where she could chicken out on riding a zip line and climb back down (and that's got to be scary high because this kid has no fear of danger I've ever noticed).

She ate fried chicken, watched movies, tie-dyed a t-shirt, etc. She and a bunch of other kids like her were able to do this because the adults outnumber the kids in this operation (at a rough visual count anyway, if there are more kids than adults, it can't be by more than one or two). And not just any adults, the kind of adults who can tackle a daunting set of challenges indeed with smiles on their faces, who can make this a positive experience for all these kids.

The kind of adults who can make it such a positive experience that a kid who is totally addicted to YouTube will say she wants to go back to an environment where she had no internet access for four days and three nights.

Incidentally, while the cabins are air conditioned now at Tall Oaks (they weren't when I slept their a few times in the early 1980s), I think they still have the same curtains. I didn't grow up going to summer camp (the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster did, though, and it is largely to her credit that Mo has enjoyed the experience). I went to a few 'retreats' at Tall Oaks with the church youth group at OPCC before I managed to wriggle out of going to church in high school.

I don't remember riding any horses there, but I do remember trying to fall asleep in sweltering heat on top of the covers in my tightie whities in a room full of other boys failing to fall asleep the same way. We'd get to talking — what can you do when you're lying awake in a puddle of sweat in your underwear? — and then the adult in the room who wasn't asleep either, for the same reason, would tell us to knock it off and go to sleep. It's 2:00 a.m. for crying out loud. I also remember another time when we went out there in the fall and it was nice, a crisp evening, a hayride I think, and a fire in a fireplace and a singalong with roasted marshmallows and whatnot.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, Mo came away with more memories and more of them positive than what I did, and I'm immensely grateful to all the people who made it possible.

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