Tag Archives: inclusion

Camp is the Place for All of Us

The following is the Fall Camp Smiles graduation speech written by Lindsay, a long-time camp volunteer and former Easter Seals Greater Houston intern, to her camper, Abbey, a long-time camper at Camp Smiles and Camp Buckaroo. This speech warmed our hearts!

“Abbey Rav, where to even start.  I’ve been struggling for a little while now to know where to even begin with this speech.  First and foremost, its insane to me that we’re actually standing here today and that you are now graduating camp. Seriously, where did the time go? I swear it was just yesterday that I met you and your wonderful family at Camp Smiles orientation.  Speaking of Camp Smiles orientation, something that I think sums you up well is this little story. We’re gonna throw it back to summer 2018, you showed up to orientation with long hair and arrived at camp 14 days later with a new haircut. One that your mom made sure to inform me, you cut yourself… If this doesn’t sum you up, I don’t know what does. Just like your hair, you like to keep life exciting and that is something I love about you. I hope you never ever lose that light within you that allows you to love others and love life so much.

Talk about loving life… Do you remember the first night of camp our very first year? It was a carnival in the pavilion and you ate 5 servings of cotton candy. I honestly have no idea how I ever got you to fall asleep that night, but I think I sat on your bed telling you the same bedtime stories about Timmy the Mouse that my dad used to tell me when I was little. Pretty sure that night must’ve been when you decided camp is the place for you, and I honestly think that same night is when I decided this is the place for me. As a lot of people know, this place holds a very special place in my heart. At this point, loving camp has become a personality trait of mine. However, an important thing to note is that my reason for loving this place so much is the campers. You being the very first camper that created that love for me. Abbey Rav you will always be “my camper” even long after you graduate today.

Our time as buddies looked a little different than most pairings around here go, but I can say I wouldn’t have traded our friendship over the last four years for the world. In 2018, I was your buddy. In 2019, I was the intern, so we were at camp together, but I wasn’t in your cabin. In 2020, well, we all know what happened in 2020. In 2021, I had the privilege of cabin leading your family as Camp For All staff during Smiles Family Camp. And now, here we are full circle, buddies once again!  I think it’s pretty cool that we’ve experienced camp together in so many ways but here we are, right back where we started. I want you to know that even though you are graduating today, I will always be here for you, and I hope that you are in my life for so many years to come.

You have grown into such a helpful, kind, and joyful person and I am so blessed that you are a part of my life. The three adjectives I just listed are not something I take lightly, so I want to expand a little bit on each. Helpful. If you know Abbey, you know she is always looking for ways to help. Whether that is holding the door open for your cabin or walking up another volunteer and asking if there’s any way you can help out or simply offering to take other’s trays at the end of a meal. Know that your actions do not go unnoticed. Kind. Abbey is kind to everyone she meets. Always asking if others are okay and checking in on her fellow campers is something Abbey does without ever being asked. A true heart of gold in this respect. Lastly, joyful. Abbey, you sincerely radiate so much light and joy in literally all that you do. Your smile and laugh are both contagious and you never fail to brighten my day. I am so proud of how much you’ve grown and I cannot wait to continue to watch you grow.

Last night, Abbey and I were talking at dinner and she was telling me that she tried out another camp a few years ago, but it wasn’t for her. She said she didn’t fit in at said other camp and I quote, “This place is where I fit in. It’s good for me. I maybe even wanna be a counselor one day.”  Personally, I like this aspiration a whole lot. Keep dreaming big and finding the places and people that are good for you sweet Abbey. I know that there is so much left in store for you and I cannot wait to see what your future holds. I love you!”

Learn more about Easter Seals Greater Houston’s inclusive and fun Camp Programs!

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A Summer of Fun!

This summer, Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Camp Program was so excited to offer both in-person and virtual programming for our campers that would typically attend Camp Buckaroo or Camp Smiles! It was awesome to see so many of our camp kiddos again!

Our biggest in-person program of the summer was Smiles Family Camp: a camp for children with cerebral palsy ages 6-15 and their families! We hosted this camp during the first week of July at Camp For All; it was wonderful to see the whole families get involved in all the unique activities Camp For All has to offer: fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, zip lining, karaoke, and so much more! This program was an awesome way to continue hosting summer recreation, while still remaining socially distanced from other families! Watch Rikki & Nico’s testimony about the impact Easter Seals Camps have had on their family!

Another in-person program we hosted was Respite Camp: a morning respite program for children with disabilities ages 6-14! BIG THANKS to The Caroline School for sharing their wonderful and accessible facilities with us; we were able to host this program when school was not in session! Campers were paired 1:1 with a volunteer, who acted as their buddy and helped lead them through activities like arts & crafts, science experiments, and a fan favorite—scavenger hunt! Our campers were so happy to see their old camp buds again, and receive individualized attention from our caring volunteers. We wrapped up the summer with a talent show and award ceremony, a tradition from our usual day camp, Camp Buckaroo!

We also hosted a virtual summer camp program, so campers could still have fun summer programming if they weren’t ready to come back in-person yet! For this program, we partnered with Project Sunshine, another awesome non-profit organization in the Houston area! Project Sunshine brought their friendly and welcoming volunteers to lead our campers through online trivia games, at-home scavenger hunts, and so much more. We met every other Friday throughout the summer!

I’m so thankful for our joyous campers and hard-working volunteers that attended our programs this summer. Thanks to our incredible supporters The Carter Family, In Memory of Sam Davison, The Dull Family, Enrico and Sandra di Portanova Charitable Foundation, The George Foundation, The Moody Endowment, Prosperity Bank, Heather & Mike Simpson, Texas Children’s Hospital, United Way of Greater Houston, and The WithMerci Foundation for making Camp possible! We look forward to seeing you all this fall for more fun & games with Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Camp and Recreation Programs!

Kenzie Richard, Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Camp Director

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Family Camp Fun

Easter Seals Greater Houston puts on a variety of fully inclusive camps. Over the last year many of our camps have been virtual, but we found a way to create a phenomenal family camp in which everyone was safely socially distanced. Here are some of the wonderful memories made at Family Camp!

“We have no words to say once and again THANK YOU so much!! We had the best family weekend EVER!! We were so happy, enjoying all the nature, all the activities and the most wonderful thing was to see Roman enjoying himself during the activities. It was great to see that he was able to fully participate in all of the activities with us, seeing his face smiling is priceless, and it was possible thanks to you!!
All the staff was very kind and patient with us, because we are a big family!! God bless you and keep doing this amazing job, bringing happiness to families like ours!!
I have attached some beautiful pictures of Roman and my family during this wonderful weekend!!

Regards and blessings,
Carolina and Family”

Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Family Camp was Kingsley’s first time at a sleep-away camp! With his family by his side, Kingsley felt safe & comfortable trying all new camp activities. On his first day of camp he rode horses, climbed the rock-wall, and even zip-lined! That night, we played a game called “Mission Rescue”; we had to save camp from being turned into cheese by an evil scientist! Campers had to make it from the dining hall to the other side of camp without getting caught by the “minions”, who would shine their flashlight on you and make you start over. Suddenly, going out into the dark felt scary to Kingsley, and his anxiety began to kick in about the minions in the dark. Despite mom’s reassurance and encouragement, he had quickly decided the game was too scary to play. I swooped in, asking Kingsley, “Kingsley, would it make you feel better if you had a flashlight too? So that if a minion beams you with a flashlight, you can beam them back!” He immediately jumped up and exclaimed, “YES!”. Armed with his new flashlight-shield, he headed outside to start the game with a smile on his face. Often times, a small token of reassurance goes a long way with our campers. The combined support from camp staff and parents allow campers to feel that they can do anything at camp, even something they might have shied away from in everyday life.

Camp is magic!

Lilly shared that had a great time at camp and enjoyed everything from the Energizers in the morning to the s’mores at night! Her favorite activity was horseback riding (it was her dad’s first time!) with zip-lining as a close second!

Easter Seals Greater Houston has camps for children, teens, adults, veterans, and families. Learn more about our inclusive camps today!

**In some of the pictures, masks are down/not on. In these cases, they were the only family at the outdoor activity—no other camp families or staff were around. Another family member took the photos.*

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Escaping Boredom Together

Even though we are just itching to get to see each other again in person, we are making the most of our time on Zoom! Every week our LEAD Adult Program meets virtually via Zoom with a different activity planned for each meeting. Last week, Kenzie Richard volunteered her time to lead our adults through a Disney World Virtual Escape Room! Our LEADers participated in each challenge to escape Disney World. Some of the challenges were quite hard but when we worked as a team, we were able to get out in just under an hour. Thank you Kenzie for leading us through that fun adventure! Check out this video of our Adult Program participants working together to escape the room and boredom.

Do you have a special activity or program you think our LEAD Adult Program would enjoy? Are you interested in leading us through the activity for 30 minutes or an hour via Zoom? Email Ashley Nichols at ANichols@eastersealshouston.org to learn how you can get involved!

Learn more about Easter Seals Greater Houston’s LEAD (Life Enrichment for Adults with Disabilities) Adult Programs.

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Advance Auto Parts is Advancing Inclusion

Easter Seals Greater Houston, in partnership with Advance Auto Parts, the Easter Seals National office, and the James Emmett Company, has begun a project to recruit persons with disabilities for positions within Advance Auto Parts stores and the distribution center for the Houston region. Advance Auto Parts has a company-wide initiative to increase the number of employees who have disabilities throughout the company. Both full-time and part-time jobs, across all shifts, are available at three Advance Auto Parts stores in Houston and at their parts warehouse in north Houston. Houston is the fourth city in America where Advance has initiated this project. A similar project began in Dallas the same day as the Houston project. Advance has a goal of increasing the number of employees with disabilities in every state in which they have facilities.

Easter Seals staff have reached out to Texas Workforce Solutions (TWS) offices to include them in the partnership through their services for persons with disabilities. TWS can provide equipment an employee may need, job readiness, and job training and job coaching if an employee needs assistance on their job. We have also made information about this initiative available to the Easter Seals Veterans and THRIVE programs.

When a person with a disability wishes to apply for a job with Advance, they should go online to https://www.advanceautoparts.jobs/en-US/page/retail-careers to determine the job(s) for which they wish to apply and contact Robert Williams at RWilliams@eastersealshouston.org to make sure their information is given to the James Emmett Company, which will shepherd their application through the interview process. Persons who apply through this initiative will receive a job interview and extra points toward meeting the requirements for their chosen jobs.

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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!

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

 

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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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