ADEC’s Summer Camp kicked off this week with good news and fun activities. Each morning, 38 children with disabilities gather at Memorial High School for a summer experience designed to fit their needs.

On Monday, June 8, ADEC’s Family Services Director Michelle McGuin showed up to Memorial early to set up the rooms for her campers. She had tried several times throughout the year to reserve more space in the building, but had no luck. She and her staff unloaded their supplies before the campers arrived, and she had to fight back tears of frustration as the small rooms were already half full.

Right at that moment, she heard people in the hallway asking, “Is Michelle here? We need to talk to Michelle.”

She thought, “It’s not even 8:00, the campers aren’t here yet, and I’m already in trouble. Great.”

With these thoughts in mind, she came out and greeted the superintendent of Elkhart Community Schools and principal of Memorial. They smiled and mysteriously said, “Come with us. We’ve got something to show you.”

They led her through the meandering hallways of Memorial to a back wing complete with large classrooms and attached bathrooms, a kitchen and a weight room. “You need bigger rooms, so we’re giving you this space for the summer.”

And with that happy ending, Summer Camp began. The kids, ranging in age from 5 to 22, are divided into two age groups between large classrooms. One child has some behavioral difficulties, so the weight room’s punching bag has been a huge help for catching the excess energy.

Each day is packed with fun educational activities. Access to therapies on a daily basis remains one of the most popular features of summer camp. Music therapists come by each day to work with the children, who are all blissfully unaware of the social, educational and cognitive benefits of music time. They are just having a great time! Recreational therapists plan for structured play times and make outside play a truly memorable experience for each camper.

Seven new staff members signed on to work with Summer Camp, and they have found a niche. “All are energetic,” Michelle laughed on Wednesday. “They were here two days, and they love it . . . It’s a lot of training involved. There’s all kinds of questions.”

If Michelle was not already thrilled with the staff, they won her heart completely on Wednesday. At the end-of-day staff meeting Tuesday, Michelle encouraged the staff to plan ahead and have activities laid out and ready to go for campers. “I come in this morning, and there’s activities out and crafts ready,” Michelle said. “I was like, ‘Ah!’ So proud.”

Most of the Summer Camp counselors are recent graduates or students from Goshen College. For many, this summer is an opportunity to dive deeper into their special education degrees or try out a possible career.

Jennifer Steinmetz graduated from Goshen College in May with a degree in elementary and special education. For her, Summer Camp is a chance to try out a career possibility. She loves working in special education, but is not sure if a traditional classroom is for her. Summer Camp is a way to try out a different education approach.

“It’s going really good,” Jennifer said. “I’ve really loved getting to know all of them, building relationships – I just already feel so welcome.”

After Jennifer wraps up Summer Camp in August, she’ll head to Seattle for a year-long volunteer experience working at a homeless shelter. For students like Jennifer, ADEC’s Summer Camp fits perfectly with the desire to volunteer and make a difference after graduation.

Summer campers go on their first field trip on Friday, June 12, to play putt putt. Throughout the summer, they will take a field trip each Friday. Some of the places on the list are Four Winds Field, JoJo’s Pretzels and two different zoos. On the other days of the week, summer campers will be busy with regularly scheduled crafts, music time, recreation, bowling and swimming at Pierre Moran Pool.