It’s that time of year, when the heat has started to outstay its welcome and kids are trading their swim trunks for book bags, which means ADEC’s Wy.Not Summer Camp program has come to an end for the year. But what is Wy.Not all about, anyway?
Summer camp kids get exposure to a wide variety of activities and locations. One day they may be hitting up the Pierre Moran public swimming pool or the McNaughton Spray Park in Elkhart, other days they may head to Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, or they may even head to Mishawaka to check out the mini-golf at Putt-Putt Fun Center or the go-kart racing at Strikes & Spares Entertainment Center. There is never a dull moment for campers, which is why they bring sack lunches while they are out and about.
“The thing I enjoy the most about working with summer camp kids is that we get to be involved in the activities they do,” says Damaris Sonora, team leader of the ADEC After-School Club and Wy.Not Summer Camp programs. “For example, we play with water balloons and go bowling with the kids.”
This is Sonora’s third year working with summer camp. To her surprise, she was recently nominated to be one of U93’s Neighborhood Heroes by a summer camp parent, and she won!
“I first met Damaris when she was a student in my English class at Elkhart Central High School,” says Krista Riblet, the parent who nominated Sonora. “She was fairly shy, but I encouraged her to apply for a job at ADEC after graduation because I felt that she would work well with the ADEC clients. Since then she has gained a new confidence and is much more outgoing. I know she was nervous about stepping up and taking on this new role as the summer camp coordinator, but she did an amazing job.”
Upon visiting the radio station, Sonora was awarded a goodie bag containing a U93 t-shirt, a framed award certificate, tickets for Putt-Putt golf, tickets to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, tickets to a South Bend Cubs game, and other things.
“I couldn’t believe it, I was surprised that I was selected,” says Sonora. “One day I went to get boxes for camp, and I received a call, and they explained what the Neighborhood Hero award is. I couldn’t believe it, I thought I was getting pranked!”
MORE THAN YOUR AVERAGE CAMP
Often, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities face challenges with weather and unfamiliar environments. While many of us can just slap on a little suntan lotion or grab an umbrella and are ready for whatever the day brings, certain medical conditions can make some individuals hypersensitive to even mild fluctuations in temperature or other environmental factors.
Summer camp programming always takes these concerns into consideration, so there may be special accommodations made for some individuals, or activities may get changed up in accordance with the forecast. If it’s too hot or too rainy, kids may still get to go out to catch a movie or enjoy indoor fun elsewhere. Wherever they end up, ADEC’s staff are always nearby and are trained to respond quickly to any medical emergencies that may arise.
“All of our field staff have a whole day of training where they learn things like CPR and the Mandt system,” says ADEC’s Vice President of Non-Residential Operations Michelle McGuin. “They also learn nursing skills that help them address things like bee stings and seizures, and they learn from behavior therapists as well. They are ready for anything, be it medical or behavioral in nature.”
Being a camp counselor is challenging enough, and the added dimension of unique and varied disabilities among all campers pushes this challenge to a whole new level. But for a Wy.Not Summer Camp counselor, it’s all worth it for the joy they get to share with the campers.
“Being a camp counselor can be a challenge because you have to make sure they are enjoying their experience, but it’s also fun because it’s something different every day,” says Sonora. “One day a camper and I were cleaning, and we went to get boxes from the hallway. We saw a big bug that I thought was a big spider. The client and I started screaming and called another staff member to take it out. It turned out to be a cricket, and as soon as we realized what it was, we started laughing about how loud we screamed.”