In its 16-year existence, a summer camp experience for children with autism and other special needs has touched many lives.
The primary beneficiary, of course, are the children who come to Camp BOLD, sponsored by The Arc Northwest Mississippi and again this year hosted at Longview Heights Baptist Church in Olive Branch.
But, as first-time counselor Abbey Price of Coldwater pointed out, she also gets a benefit from being around the children during her camp week.
“We are taking them to different classes, like music and art classes and helping them learn,” the 17-year-old Price said. “We’re spending a lot of time with them and bonding with them. It exposes me to things I wouldn’t normally be around, especially younger kids in different situations with them.”
This summer, a total of 180 youngsters with special needs, mostly in the autism spectrum, spend a week at the camp, playing games, learning crafts and music. It’s everything other camps offer in the summer geared to the special needs younger population, said The Arc Northwest Mississippi Executive Director Rebecca Treadway.
“Everyone deserves a fun summer camp experience, whether you have a disability or not,” Treadway said. “Here at Camp BOLD we want to give everybody a typical summer camp experience and the best way to meet their needs. We want them to have fun with their friends, we want them to be able to sing, play games and just do fun camp things that all kids get to do.”
The first week of camp offered time for ages 3-5 through Thursday this week. Future weeks will be Monday-Friday programs for age 6-9, 10-14, and 15 and up. Each session was filled with the maximum number of campers, 30 for this week and 50 for each successive week.
BOLD stands for Balance, Opportunity, Learning and Determination, but the campers seemed more interested in the fun they are having.
The camp counselors are also having a good time and Price said that was a reason she chose to come and volunteer this year.
“I have a lot of friends who help out here and they had a really great experience doing it,” Price said. “I want to be a teacher, so working with kids is something I really enjoy. It’s been a really good experience.”
Counselors are paired up with a youngster who they work with during the week they are at Camp BOLD, Treadway said, adding they leave with a broader knowledge of youngsters in the autism spectrum and with other special needs.
“When a counselor works with us, they leave here with a better understanding of individuals with disabilities, knowing how to speak to them, how to play with them, how to advocate for them in society and have empathy for them,” Treadway said.
The counselors are also supported by staffers who know how to deal with autism and other disabilities.
“We have a full one-to-one camper-to-counselor ratio, we have excellent special education teachers that are on staff that know how to meet the needs of our campers,” Treadway noted. Each week involves a half day of activities, mostly inside the church’s Family Resource Center on Goodman Road in Olive Branch.
Treadway said that it takes more than $200 to host a camper at Camp BOLD, but campers are only asked to pay $50 for the week. The rest of the funding comes from sponsorships from area businesses, churches and other organizations that have supported the program.
Mainly, Camp BOLD is about having fun and what is learned is just a big bonus.
“They’re really great and really sweet and really nice kids,” Price said.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.