Tag Archives: Camp

First Light and The Wish Float

What an incredible 4th First Light Family Camp we had! And the lessons, encouragement, and realizations keep coming.  The families are there because they are first and foremost a military family. We are proud that we can be of support to them through Easter Seals  Veterans Services, but more importantly, we are honored by the work they have done for our Country and the work they are doing for their families now.  We were also really excited to have donors who wanted to ensure that all the children attending received a new bike. Who knew it would lead to some incredible revelations. Untitled

“First light is hopeful, beautiful, but it is also when you are at your most vulnerable.”

One family of four who attended with two children both of whom have disabilities, learned a new lesson.  “Wow a bike!  You think I can learn how to ride it?”   Apparently, the children were never taught to ride… plenty of reasons, mostly protecting them – but the truth is it was just one more thing that made the children feel different adding to the list of disability, divorce, and military.   One of the children after taking the first turn on learning to ride said, “This is going to make me feel really good.”

Another mom of a family attending reflected on her childhood memories of what a bike meant to her as a child, bottom line – freedom.  “I think about my kids and the childhood they’re having now.  They are not having the “normal” childhood I had.  Maybe these bikes are going to help us ALL feel free again.”

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“The Wish Float, when something spiritual becomes real.”

 

 

The Wish Float, a tradition at First Light it, is an emotional event, after a day of mental health focused break-out sessions, nighttime with the family and new friends, stars out, our flag lit up and campfire going. Everyone is asked to send out their wishes and hopes in a note with a candle into the darkness.

One family, enjoying the night realized one young adult child was off to the side on their own.  Everyone assumed normal teen stuff.   Turns out, a younger child with a disability from another family, being emotional, had reached out to the closest person for comfort, their young adult. And it turns out, that is all it took, the touch of a child for this family member to realize that they always needed to be there for their family, not just for the weekend, but for life. First Light

Upon seeing the picture – Mom said, “I remember loving this moment! I felt like things were going to be truly o.k. with my kids.”

And that is what this Easter Seals Veteran Family Camp is all about.  Being okay with yourself, and being present for your family.

Christine Ellery, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Program Director; Kenzie Richard Easter Seals Greater Houston, Program Coordinator

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Coming Full Circle – Volunteer to Staff Member

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Katherine von Haefen is a long-time United Way Greater Houston staff person.  She was at United Way when I was in high school, and she was in charge of the Kids Way Program then.  Kids Way was most definitely the thing that taught me to love volunteering in high school, and really instilled in me the idea of lifelong volunteerism.  Fast forward to today, and Katherine’s high school aged daughter, Alison, volunteered for Camp Buckaroo for the first time this summer.  Alison had a wonderful time and is now thinking about making working with people with disabilities her career, as many of our amazing teen volunteers do.  She’s already reached back out to Kenzie Richard, Easter Seals Camp Program Coordinator, to ask about volunteering during the school year!  It’s neat to think that Katherine was around when I discovered my love for volunteering, and now I’m around when her daughter’s making the same discovery – totally coming full circle.

Christine Ellery, Program Director Easter Seals Greater Houston.

*Easter Seals Greater Houston is proud to have been a partner of United Way GH since the days of it being called The Community Chest… a very long time! UWGH has enabled ESGH to serve so many more clients – thousands and thousands – through their and their donors support allowing us to ensure family stability, create growth, independence, and more.

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Big Gifts and Little Gifts According to Our Will

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My name is Will Ellery.  I am 8 years old and I go to Parker Elementary.  My mom works at Easter Seals.  Sometimes I get to go to camp with her.  When I do, if everyone has gone first and had all the turns they want at the activities, then sometimes I get to go too.  I’ve never been able to do the ropes course because I always get scared.  One time I put on the harness and that was all I could do.  Another time I climbed up the ladder to get on the giant swing, but then I just climbed back down the ladder.  One time I started climbing the rock wall, but then I came back down after halfway because I didn’t feel safe.

Before Thanksgiving I got to go to the Veterans and family camp.  I met my friend, Ms. La’Tori, there.  She was there by herself because her baby is sick.  She is in the NICU at the hospital.  I was in the NICU too when I was a baby so that’s something we have in common.  Ms. La’Tori said she was going up the rock wall by herself, but she was going to wait for everybody else.  I told her I wasn’t allowed to go until last, and only if there was enough time.  She asked me if I had climbed the rock wall before, and I told her my stories about getting scared.  She said, “Well, why don’t we try going together?”

So we stood and waited together.  Sometimes I would get butterflies in my stomach.Will and La'Tori 2  I asked Ms. La’Tori if she was sure we could go together.  She said yes.  I asked her if she would stay with me and not go too fast.  She said yes to that too.  Some of the big older boys were going up the wall fast like Spiderman!

When it was our turn I went on the left side and Ms. La’Tori went on the right side.  She smiled real big and asked if I was ready.  I said yes and we started climbing.  Ms. La’Tori stayed right next to me.  Sometimes I even went a little faster than her!  When I had trouble on the hard parts she asked me if I was okay.  She tried to help me by pointing to rocks I could put my hands and feet on.Will and La'Tori 3

I made it to the top first!  When I got to the top I cheered for Ms. La’Tori so she could make it to the top too.  I was hoping we could go down the zipline together, but there was a line of people on her side.  I thought I would be scared to go down the zipline because I wasn’t going with Ms. La’Tori.  But you know what?  Once I got all the way to the top, nothing was scary anymore!  It’s like I just had to climb the wall once and then I got brave.

Since I went down the zipline first, I got to watch Ms. La’Tori from the ground.  I guessed she was probably scared up there.  So I yelled real loud that she didn’t need to worry and that it was going to be so much fun.  She went down the zipline a really brave way – backwards!

I’m really glad I met Ms. La’Tori at camp.  She helped me do something I never got to do before!

Note from Will’s mom (Christine Ellery, Easter Seals Program Director): Some of the greatest blessings of working at Easter Seals have been the experiences and interactions with people my kids have had.  From a young age, my kids have met people of all ages and all abilities and disabilities, and as Easter Seals has expanded its Veterans Program, my kids have met amazing Veterans and Veteran families.  All these people have helped to shape my kids and their capacity for kindness and compassion.

About Will’s story above…  One thing worth mentioning is La’Tori is an Air Force Veteran, so probably not as afraid of heights as Will guessed!  I loved and appreciated how capable and brave La’Tori made Will feel, from the times she let him climb a little faster than her, to her taking in all his words (um, screams) of ziplining advice and no-fear from below.  She made him feel so confident.  And I hope being at Veterans and family camp made La’Tori feel confident.  As a mom whose baby was also in the NICU, I know there are so many questions and so much to be anxious about; it’s hard to feel confident.  But watching La’Tori with Will, it’s so easy to see what a great mom she is.  I’m so excited La’Tori’s sweet baby girl gets to come home soon!    

Christine Ellery, Easter Seals Program Director  ; Will Ellery, Lifelong Easter Seals Houston Volunteer and Kenzie Richard, Easter Seals Program Coordinator

 

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Our BHP Community Quarterback Finalist

Congratulations Christian! You are a RockStar! So proud that you were chosen as a BHP Community Quarterback finalist! All finalists were recognized Sunday, December 8th at the Houston Texans game and ESGH will receive a $5000 donation as a result of Christian’s long-standing work with our Camp Program.

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Christian has been volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston’s camp programs for over a decade. Starting when he was 17 years old, Christian started as a volunteer at Camp Smiles, a week-long overnight camp that serves children with cerebral palsy. For years, Christian served as the one on one counselor for Kamal, a non-verbal camper who adored the support and friendship Christian gave him. Over the years, Kamal and Christian became life-long friends, and they still make time to celebrate graduations and big birthdays together. In recent years, Christian has taken on the role of head counselor, meaning he is in charge of an entire cabin of campers and volunteers for the week of camp. Christian is an incredible leader, both in the most serious and silliest aspects of ensuring a safe and enriching camp experience.

Christian is an integral part of the Camp Smiles community. Campers and volunteers alike adore him, and he is a trusted and remembered part of everyone’s camp experience. Not only has he impacted the lives of hundreds of campers, Christian, now a teacher, has also started recruiting his students to volunteer for camp. Christian is the perfect role model for the new volunteers’ first year at camp. The energy and light-hearted spirit Christian brings to camp is infectious; his desire to bond with each camper and counselor radiates, setting a standard of friendship within the cabin. They all became like brothers, creating a group bond that wouldn’t be possible without Christian. One of his students even earned the award of “best new counselor” at the end of camp, for his concerted effort to bond with his camper and make his week unforgettable. This success was the most certainly a result of Christian’s decade-long dedication to building stronger communities.

The most admirable aspect of Christian’s volunteerism is how effortless his hard work comes across, though his success as a camp leader comes from years of experience and dedication. From jokes, to encouragement, to tears at the end of camp, Christian is intentional about supporting each camper and volunteer in his cabin. Christian’s ability to see each camper as just another kid, despite any disability, allows him to build a community of inclusion around him. In the truest version of leading by example, the volunteers Christians brought to Camp Smiles caught onto this environment of inclusion starting on day one.  Not only did he teach this new generation of young men the basics of caregiving, Christian undoubtedly instilled in them the privilege and honor of serving others.

Christine Ellery, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Program Director

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Super Stegemann Sister Volunteer for 17 years Together

Camp sisters blog

Shelby
Hello! My name is Shelby and I am a graduate student in a physical therapy program at the University of New England. I have been volunteering at ESGH  Camp Smiles for seven wonderful years. I love camp because it is truly a place that looks past disability and provides an awesome experience for some really cool kids. One of my favorite memories was with my camper Claire, who has a beloved stuffed Olaf (the snowman from Frozen). The whole week we were together, we brainstormed ways to include Olaf in all the activities, from dressing him up for the dance to having him shoot an arrow in archery! Every summer at camp is a great experience and I am so grateful for the wonderful friends and awesome memories I’ve made along the way.

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Sierra
Hello! My name is Sierra Stegemann. I am a masters student at the University of Texas at San Antonio studying to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. I have been volunteering with Camp Smiles for six wonderful years. I have gotten to be a cabin leader, work as the Easter Seals intern, and have an amazing opportunity to be the counselor to my camper, Jackson, for the past three years. Camp is something that I look forward to all year long! My favorite part of camp has been getting to see my Jackson grow and building an awesome friendship with him. This past summer was especially important to me. Jackson is nonverbal and many people can be intimidated by him and are not sure how to interact with us, especially since we are always on the go! This summer our cabin really came together and learned different ways to communicate with him and created an inclusive environment that we hadn’t always had in years past. My favorite memory is everyone in the cabin learning his song that always made him smile and having a group jam session. Memories like that keep me returning to camp! It is always a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the “real world” and it will forever be my happy place.

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Abby
Hello all! My name is Shay. For the last 3 years, Camp Smiles has been the highlight of my summer. I was first introduced to this amazing camp by my 2 older sisters, Shelby and Sierra. My first year, I was asked to come to camp the day before it was going to start. I was nervous about the last-minute request, but I agreed to join my sisters for what they promised would be a life-changing week. And they were right! Every year at Smiles is special. This summer was special to me because I had the pleasure of being the counselor to my pal, Nathan, who I have known for 3 years. It was wonderful to be a part of his first camp adventure- from seeing him go canoeing and fishing for the first time, to being covered in face paint laughing and cheering at the pep rally. My favorite thing about Camp Smiles is the community. I always say that I wish the real world were more like camp- inclusive, judgment-free, and full of smiles!

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Emma
My name is Emma and I have volunteered at Camp Smiles for two years. My sisters have been volunteering at camp for some time now and I am so happy that I get to experience it with them. My favorite thing about camp is the atmosphere. Everyone is always so happy to be there and everyone is there for the same purpose: to have a great time. Camp is the one place I can be myself and know that nobody will judge me, and I know the campers feel the same way. I have been a counselor to Zoë for the past two summers and it has been awesome to witness her growth from the first summer I was her counselor to this summer. She went from barely speaking to me to speaking loud and clear, and it was amazing to see that transition in her. One of my favorite camp memories was after this year’s graduation ceremony. Zoë and I were both very emotional because she was graduating, but after I gave my speech, Zoë said my name for the first time and told me that I was her best friend. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to be at camp for 2 years, and I can’t wait for the many years to come.

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Abby, Emma, Sierra, and Shelby: Easter Seals Greater Houston, Camp Smiles Volunteers

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Kickin off Summer with Camps!

Our Summer camps kick off this week and we want you to meet the awesome Easter Seals Camp Interns!

Hi everyone! My name is Lindsay Veech and I’m a rising senior at St. Agnes Academy.  I’m thrilled to be a part of the Easter Seals team this summer! You can ask my friends and family, my excitement for this job has been the only thing I talk about lately… I am especially looking forward to meeting new people and making many new friends. LVA- camp I think it’s really special to be given this opportunity to make a difference in others’ lives.  I truly believe that there is something to be learned from kids with disabilities.  For me personally, working with Easter Seals and children who have disabilities has changed my view on life.  These children taught me to be more understanding, patient, and kind to everyone who crosses my path.  I believe these kids can teach our community that no matter how many obstacles you will face, the list of successes you will achieve is always twice as long, because you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.

– Lindsay Veech, Easter Seals Greater HoustonCamp Intern 

Hello y’all! My name is Ethan Glass. This will be my fifth summer being a part of Easter Seals camps, and my second summer as an intern. Next year I will be attending UT Austin to study psychology with hopes of becoming a therapist. Through my entire school-year, I have been eagerly awaiting Camp Smiles! Not only is it an incredibly fun time, it also gives me the opportunity to be a part of an amazing group of unique people. The bonds I make with the campers, volunteers, and my coworkers have been the basis of my favorite memories. Camp intern

Children with disabilities give us all the opportunity to witness first hand that “different” is not even close to the same as “less than.” Just by being themselves, they show that having a disability is never the most interesting thing about them. We can learn that making judgements based on ability is extremely naïve. The children I have worked with have shown me time and time again that their ability to spread happiness is never hindered by a diagnosis.

– Eathan Glass, Easter Seals Greater HoustonCamp Intern 

 

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Love is All Around at Family Day Out

FDO pic 2My name is Emily Padora and I am interning with Easter Seals Greater Houston this Spring. A few months ago, I had the privilege of putting together activities for our campers to do at Family Day Out. Since it was so close to Valentine’s Day, I related the entire day to all things Valentine-y. We started out the day dyeing rice red, pink, and purple to mix together for a fun sensory item to play with. Then, we all gathered together in the gym for an exciting game of ‘Musical Hearts’, where we made silly faces and performed fun movements. Later, we relaxed with a snack and short Valentine’s Day kid-friendly video. We ended the day with some playtime outside, where some campers decided to engage in a fun game of baseball, some ran around with their awesome volunteers, and others just chilled out by the swings. ESGH Family Day Out is meant to be a fun and safe environment for children with disabilities and their siblings to hangout on a Saturday morning while their parents and/or caregivers can take some time to themselves. We put together a fun-packed schedule for campers that allows for room to engage in activities that interest them. I loved being a part of the FDO program and I look forward to the next one!

 

Emily Padora, Easter Seals Greater Houston Intern

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