I have one of the best jobs in the world. I’m a camp director at Camp Promise, a weeklong overnight camp for people of all ages with muscular dystrophy and similar neuromuscular disorders. We have sites in Seattle, Philadelphia, and Denver.
Although all of our campers have some form of physical disability, our activities have always been based on the idea of inclusion—people with all abilities should be able to participate without restrictions. So rather than picking from the relatively small world of “accessible” activities, we ask ourselves “What are the best activities out there?” and then figure out how to get them to camp and adapt them for our campers.
I took my first IMPACT class in 2012 in Chicago, two weeks before moving to NYC and (unknown to me at the time) joining the Prepare team. It was an unbelievably empowering experience to discover the physical strength I possessed. Until then, I’d never seen myself taking up a very large footprint in life. Taking down a full-sized man or pulling myself out of the most vulnerable of positions was an invaluable life lesson about the power I possessed. This was something I wanted our campers to experience, too.
So in 2013, Prepare Portland visited Camp Promise-West in Seattle for a 2-hour workshop. This was the right program for us. This year, Camp Promise-Rockies received a visit from the Denver chapter and Camp Promise-East received a visit from Prepare New York instructors Donna and Ernest. They spent the morning working with our younger campers, adapting their elementary school curriculum to fit the physical needs of each individual camper. Then, it was on to our adult campers in the afternoon.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy—the neuromuscular disease most of our campers have—is progressive. By their late teens, most of our campers are unable to move their arms and legs and use a wheelchair for mobility. The slightest slip or move of the hand that controls their wheelchair could render them immobile. I say this, not so you’ll pity them, but so you’ll get an idea of their reality and some of the fears that come with that. Trust me, after seeing them take on the bullying, abusive character portrayed in their scenarios, your pity is not needed.They verbally kicked his butt.
Our campers learned skills to turn scenarios in which they would otherwise have felt helpless into opportunities to use their greatest strengths—their voices—to set boundaries, advocate for themselves, and report abuse. They learned how to carry themselves to look like difficult targets—a key lesson with given that statistics report somewhere between 70% and 90% of people with disabilities being abused or assaulted.
The group that left the workshop looked very different than the group that came in. They sat taller, spoke louder, and had more confidence. I encourage anyone who works with a “vulnerable” population to reach out to Prepare. The training they offer is invaluable, especially to people with physical and cognitive disabilities. And, I cannot wait to see IMPACT:Ability transform the lives of a new group of students!
Donate to Emerging Strategies for Learning and Leadership (a 501 (c) 3 organization) to support training 6 additional instructors in the IMPACT:Ability program.