Disability Camp Series: Taking the Plunge

There is a song by Steven Curtis Chapman called “Dive” that emphasizes well how apprehensive but determined I was for Regan to experience summer camp. The chorus read like this:

I’m diving in, I’m going deep in over my head, I want to be
Caught in the rush, lost in the flow, in over my head, I want to go
The river’s deep, the river’s wide,the river’s water is alive
So sink or swim, I’m diving in

I promised many of my readers to talk more about Regan going to camp. I can tell you it is a tough decision but one I am so glad that we made for her benefit and for ours. Like the song, I just had to let go and dive in head first and I am so glad we did. Honestly, she is a camp crazy kid….but I can tell you I was extremely apprehensive about sending her. Here were some of my many concerns:

1. No one can take care of her like I can. What if they do the wrong thing? What if she falls from her walker? What if she gets scared or hurt?

2. These people are going to be doing personal things for her….like helping in the shower, helping dress from the wait down, and helping with some basic toileting needs. What if they are not trained…..or worse some sort of child predator.

3. Will I be able to sleep an entire week leaving her in the care of perfect strangers? Is that really bad parenting on my part….that I kind of crave the break….but I am anxious that so much can go horribly wrong.

Well when she was ten we decided to take the plunge and try our first camp. First of all it was about 40 minutes from my house…..so the proximity if anything happened was very comforting. It also came highly recommended from friends of ours who had experienced success with their child at this camp. So we made the commitment and requested the paperwork for Texas Elks Camp in Gonzales, TX.

Let me say first of all that the requirements for every camp are very different. At Texas Elks Camp they take a variety of disabilities ranging from ADD to Downs Syndrome, but they will not take children who are wheelchair bound or need major medical help on a daily basis. The staff ratio is three kids to one counselor….and each session is open to all the special needs they accept….so it is not that they have “cerebral palsy week” or “diabetes camp”. It is kind of a free for all in terms of campers. The counselors are all college kids most who return year after year to work with the kids. The counselors have gone through numerous interviews and family background checks to work at the camp. There are several adult staff members, a camp director, and nurse to oversee everything.

The funny thing about Texas Elks Camp is that they very rarely are actually at camp. It is headquartered in an old Polio hospital that does not have extensive grounds or activities of it’s own. So every day the whole camp has trips to places. They go swimming at the local public pool, and go bowling at the bowling alley. They go to an amusement arcade that has go-carts, virtual rollercoasters, and a rock wall. They spend a few days at Splashway….a nice Waterpark in our area. They also bring in entertainment for after dinner, like a magician, have a camp dance, and outside water fun and barbecue. They also give each parent a detailed schedule for the whole week so at any time I can look at her schedule and know what she is doing. The first year I checked the schedule obsessively!!!!!!

Here is Regan on a blow up water slide they had one evening .Well, after the first week at camp, John Mark and I could not wait to pick her up….first to see if we had made a huge mistake….and she really did need us for every moment of the day. I was also sure she had missed us and would be so happy to see me that we would both be shedding tears of joy ( I am still waiting for those tears from her….three years later).

Okay, so she loved it! She loved making friends with people who are a lot like her, because honestly she doesn’t know many. Secondly she had a social life…..like boys asking her to dance…and girls to gossip with. She was also a huge hit with the counselors….so much that she was voted the “Blue Moose Girls: Camper of the Week”. They told me her positive attitude and her willingness to try everything made her a joy to be around ( yes, just like her mama).

She chatted the whole way home, and well into the night about everything and everybody, and then said “I am going back next year right”?

It is a plunge well worth taking.