Tag Archives: Camp Smiles

What the Snap?

Ethan, one of our Easter Seals Houston 2018 Summer Camp Interns, has been Denium’s counselor for the past two years. Before that, they had been in the same cabin. Over the three years, they built an amazing bond that helped both of them grow in a way that will forever be remembered. Sadly, camp does not last forever. At Camp Smiles, campers graduate when they are 14 years old. The graduation ceremony is always a very emotional time, as counselors who have been with their campers for years, give a speech to say farewell to some of the most impactful people in their lives. There is rarely a dry eye in the audience. Here is the speech Ethan gave to Denium as he was graduating:

You have been a part of my life I will never forget. From the countless catch phrases such as “ooooooh you got a girlfrieeeend” to nicknaming Pablo as Pappadeux, your humor is a gift that will be remembered by all.

This is our second year together. Imagining a camp experience without you is just strange to me. While your presence overall is unforgettable, there are some specific instances that are especially amazing. Two years ago, we had a very emotional day together. We were outside of the art barn, and I decided to sneak up on you and pop a wheelie as a joke. Little did I know, you were already in an irritable mood because of something that had just happened. As soon as I did that, you reached back and swatted at me. My popping a wheelie with you was the tip of your iceberg. You were very upset. We got back to the cabin and the other counselors and I insist that you apologize. After a while, our friend, Lee, took you to the bathroom so y’all could have a talk about it and calm down. What happened next is something that will never fail to make my heart melt. I remember you coming in, looking very sad. You came up to me and said something very softly, too softly to hear. I ask what you said. You took a moment to collect yourself. Then, you pulled me in as tight as you could and profusely apologized to me and told me how sad you were. Never in my life have I experienced such raw sincerity. While you were crying and apologizing, I began to cry as well as I realized how sincere and caring of a person you truly are.

After a couple of years with you, I’ve noticed some changes in your personality. For one, during your first year, you were completely repulsed by the idea of interacting with the icky icky girls. Now this year, you can’t stay away from them. You went from poking fun at Lee for having a girlfriend by saying “oooooh, you got a girlfriend” every time Sophie walked by. Now, you proudly announce to your whole cabin that you indeed do “have a girlfriend”.

On a more serious note, the change that I have been most proud to witness is how much more open you’ve been with your caring personality. Spending time with you has given me the unique opportunity to experience not only the hilariously wild side of you that I call “what the snap Denium” but also the sweet and tender side of you. The side of you that holds Jacoby with care. The side that is well beyond content while tickling and smiling at Niko. It has been very impactful on me and has made me so happy. I’m so proud that I got to see you interact with the little ones so well.  The way you interact with the little ones has made everyone who has been around you smile. The way you interact with Niko and Jacoby shows a new side of you that makes me so so proud. You are truly beyond your years with the way you patiently interact with these kids.

Camp has been a huge part of my life. I tell everyone I meet that there is nothing more I look forward to than this particular week. Every time I envision future camp experiences, I still picture you being a part of them. You’re an important part of this community we have and will be missed dearly.

I know that as you move on in life, you will continue to make others happy. Whether it be through your humor, or your humongous caring heart, you will make the lives of so many people much brighter. I hope that we keep in touch so that when I have kids one day, you can make them smile.

Ethan, Summer Camp Intern, Easter Seals Greater Houston

 

 

 

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Nothing “Dull” About Camp

Easter Seals Greater Houston hosts several camps throughout the Greater Houston area and at Camp For All in Burton, Texas every summer. These camps serve children with disabilities, some of which are medically fragile, and their siblings. The days are filled with inclusive, accessible activities that all the children and volunteers enjoy. The following was written by one of our amazing 2018 summer camp interns.

ConleeHi my name is Conlee Dull and I go to Memorial High School. This will be my 5th year volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston specifically their summer Camps and Recreation Program. I think by far one of my favorite memories from camp is the first time I ever gave a camper an award. Just to see the smile light up on their face and how proud their family was honestly made everything I did with my camper even more rewarding. Through volunteering I have learned that people with disabilities are the same as any other kids and they just want to have a good time without being judged just as any other kid would. Through volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Camp and Recreation Program I have really developed a passion of working with people with special needs and I can’t wait to see how much it grows this summer when I intern!

conlee at most

Conlee Dull, Summer Camps and Recreation Intern, Easter Seals Greater Houston

 

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Miraculous Megan: Longtime Client and Friend

Megan Fry is an amazing 17 year old girl. She has been part of the Easter Seals Greater Houston family for over 10 years. She has the mind and the personality of a typical developing teenage girl. She loves art and has her own website, Just My Eye, that meg-w-dvox-300x225showcases her creations. One of Megan’s many unique qualities is that she was born with cerebral palsy, with an end result of being nonverbal and using a wheelchair to maneuver around. You need to be careful because she drives her chair around very fast! She communicates and shows off her big personality by using a Tobii. The Tobii is a device that allows Megan to use her eyes to pick out her words which are then shared through the speaker.

Over the years, Megan has attended our summer camps, participated in Family Day Out, received In-Home Respite, and participated in our BridgingApps program. Her family has participated in our Lil’ Rustler Rodeo night with the Houston Livestocgroupk Show and Rodeo, used a Respitality weekend, participated in our Walk With Me at the Houston Zoo event and our Hats Off to Mother’s Luncheon. We were fortunate to have Megan as our summer intern this past year. She created and distributed our Easter Seals Montgomery County newsletter. Megan is currently participating in our Family Day Out program as a Junior Director. She is amazing with our clients and our families.

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Megan is a true success story and ambassador for Easter Seals Greater Houston. Megan and her mom even went on speaking engagements last year to represent Easter Seals during the United Way campaign. She has received services and continues to give back to our community. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Megan because we know there is nothing she can’t accomplish!

Kristie Carlisle, Respite Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Check out Megan’s dad’s post about how assistive technology helped him connect with his daughter here!

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Camp Friends are the Best Friends

Dear Carolina & Juana,

Because Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Camp Smiles changed my life so much I feel I need to let you know how 4 years ago, my first year, you had to convince my mom & dad to let me come to camp at all. My parents tried to find every reason possible that I shouldn’t be allowed to come and told CAnna 3hristine & Betsy why it would be better for me to stay home. All they would say to my parents was, “No problem – we can handle it.” My mom told me she cried every day because she missed me so much the first year I was at camp – ridiculous, right?!?!

Fast forward 3 years and I’m now having to say “see you later” to my Camp Smiles family… My mom is crying for a different reason this year – she knows I have met 2 of the most important people – you two, Carolina & Juana – who have been my counselors every year I’ve been here. Both of you have helped me become more confident in who I am. You have given me a reason to be Anna 1happy every summer because I know you accept me for who I am and make me feel understood and important. You have become more like big sisters – a part of my family – more than just camp counselors. And even though I won’t be back at Camp Smiles again as a camper I’m praying our paths continue to cross forever. You are two of the most amazing people and I hope all of your dreams come true.

Thank you to every friend I’ve made and every counselor who took the time to get to know me at camp.  I’m better for having all of you in my life.  I love you all and am grateful for all of you!

Love,

Anna, Camp Smiles Camper, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Anna 2

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Robert’s Road Warriors

Join Easter Seals Greater Houston and Chairmen Katherine and Bob Dowdell on Saturday, April 9th for the 5th Annual Family Fun Walk, Walk With Me, at the Houston Zoo.  The Dowdell’s, alongside their team, Robert’s Road Warriors, are walking to support their 19 year old son Robert who struggles with cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

“Robert was first diagnosed with cataracts and then cerebral palsy at the age of 14 months.  Fortunately, he was able to participate in Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) – physical, occupational and speech therapyECI offers a jump start for children with delayed developmental issues like Robert. While many of those years were mixed with hardships and challenges, Easter Seals was a constant support throughout. Easter Seals was with our family every step of the way to make Robert’s “disability” seem more like a “different ABILITY”.

Robert attended his first Easter Seals Camp when he was seven years old.  smiles robert dowdellHe attended Camp Buckaroo, a summer day camp for kids with special needs, and Camp Smiles, a week long spend-the-night camp in Burton, Texas.  Robert had never spent the night away from home, but I packed up his walker, wheelchair and orthotics for his adventure.  At camp, Robert was encouraged to try new things he never dreamed he could do, as he needed assistance with many everyday tasks. He did all the normal camp things; horseback riding, zip line, fishing, shot archery, sang karaoke, and danced and – for the first time in his life, he like a “normal” kid. He was loved for who he was, just as he was.  At the end of each camp session, Robert would cry when he saw we were there to pick him up…he didn’t want to leave!

????????????????????????????????????At age 15, Robert attended Camp Most. Camp Most is focused less on activities and more on building socialization skills in teens.  Robert learned important things like how to start a conversation, how to tell people about his disability, and how to determine his strengths to build a resume.  Robert has learned how to set goals.  His goals for 2016 include: to do his BEST in everything that he CAN do, to be a better brother to his sister, Katie and to be independent.  Easter Seals Camps have proven to be some of the most transformative events in Robert’s life to date.

Community support of Walk With Me is a blessing to many families in the greater Houston area – one that the Dowdell Family can personally attest to. Easter Seals provides life-changing services to people of all ages with all types of disabilities.  Thanks to Easter Seals, Robert is strong, happy, perseverant and optimistic about his bright future, and we are confident that Easter Seals will continue to help him become more self-reliant and prepare him for his future. Please consider supporting Walk With Me to guarantee services for Robert and other Houstonians with disabilities to help them discover their potential and hope for limitless possibilities!”

-Katherine Taylor Dowdell
Walk With Me Chair, Proud mother of Katie (22) and Robert (19) and grateful beneficiary of Easter Seals Greater Houston programs

Katherine and Robert DowdellMore About Walk With Me: 
Walk With Me is a 5K or shorter Family Fun Walk that helps raise awareness and resources for programs of Easter Seals, which help children and adults living with all types of disabilities. For more information contact Madison Shofner at 713-838-9050×304 or mshofner@eastersealshouston.org or visit our event website, click here!

More About the Dowdell Family:
Robert lives in Briargrove Park with his family.  His father, Bob, is an executive with Prosperity Bank and his mother, Katherine, is a retired banker and fundraiser.  Katherine serves on the Board of Directors for Easter Seals and Bob was instrumental in gaining the support of Prosperity Bank, the Title Sponsor for this year’s Walk With Me event.  Robert’s big sister, Katie, is a senior at Louisiana State University.  Robert is a senior at Westside High School.  He is active in Best Buddies Texas, Capernaum-a Young Life group for special needs kids, and Easter Seals Camp Most.

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PNO = R&R

My husband, Doug, and I welcomed our wonderful son, Duncan, after our 39th birthdays. Having met at 21, we’d spent the better part of two decades dining at the best “cheap eats” in Houston, taking weekend jaunts in Texas, exercising daily, and enjoying the occasional happy hour. Quite simply, we appreciated the benefits of living as DINKS (double-income, no kids).

Dec 2015 Respite blog PNO 1So along came our beautiful baby. Overnight, our lives transformed in rewarding and challenging ways I never could have imagined. Of course, this is true for any new parent, but there exists an additional anxiety, concern and effort when you care for a child with special needs. Doctors’ appointments, therapy, testing, tutoring, special-ed meetings, financial challenges, and countless hours of online research: It’s just plain exhausting.

So, when we heard about the Easter Seals Greater Houston Respite Program, Parents’ Night Out, we were cautiously optimistic.  We were happily surprised at its affordability: $10 for four hours of babysitting by Easter Seals’ skilled volunteers and staff.  But, we know our son. He is fearful of new situations, despite having attended summer camps with Easter Seals Greater Houston. Bless his heart, he is visually impaired, has epilepsy and CP, so who could blame him?Dec 2015 Respite blog PNO 2

Our concerns were unfounded and he made fast friends at Parents’ Night Out. The volunteers exemplify patience and understanding, each offering a weekend night to care for our son, later telling us how much they enjoy Duncan!  Six months later, he asks to attend the “babysitting place” nearly every Friday night.  Doug and I have actually seen three movies and been out to dinner twice during the last six weeks! That reconnection is critical with the added stress of our days.

From respite for caregivers to summer camps and fun activities for children, Easter Seals is a blessing for thousands of people in the Greater Houston area. And the Graham family is proof of that.

-Catherine Graham, Respite Program client parent

For more about Easter Seals‘ Care Giving Services, click here.
For more about Easter Seals’ Camps and Recreation, click here.

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Camp Starts With You…The Volunteer

Easter Seals Greater Houston Camp Smiles is off to an incredible start, and we couldn’t do it without our volunteers.  They arrived on Saturday at Camp For All before Campers for more training and team-building.  The 60 volunteers range in age from 16 to 26, from first timers to 9 year veterans (wow!), and nearly half are sibling sets.  It’s all in the family when it comes to volunteering at Camp Smiles!

“I’m so excited about my little brother being here as a volunteer,” said one.  “I have gotten so much out of volunteering at Camp Smiles and I know he will, too.  I can’t wait to see him with his camper!”

As their final team-building activity, the volunteers gathered in a circle.  The first timers talked about what they were most excited about and the veterans talked about what keeps them coming back.  They had in common wanting to create an atmosphere of welcoming and celebration, and of making each camper feel like the coolest kid at camp.

Jessie, a former Camp Smiles camper and a first time volunteer, knows Camp Smiles’ impact from both sides.  She was the last to speak and she said, “The cabins, the activities, this awesome site that we’re on, and the fact that we’re away from our families – all that is really great.  But camp starts with you, the volunteers.  You make that stuff go from really great to amazing, and you help make memories that stay with a camper their whole life.”

Christine Ellery, Program Director, Camps Counseling & Case Management

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