By Maya Gurley
For special needs children, Camp Able is a safe haven: a place where no one is defined by his or her disability. Read more to find out how this camp is changing lives around Memphis.
People often assume that kids with disabilities cannot have a typical summer camp experience. Every summer, Camp Able proves that they can.
Camp Able, a four-day program facilitated by St. Columba, was intended to create a safe place for these children: a place where there is no ridiculing, bullying, excluding, or ignoring; a place where kids can have fun without the stress of their disabilities surrounding them; a place where there is respect for every human being and his or her dignity; a place where kids can unashamedly be themselves.
Not only does Camp Able hope to change and better the lives of the campers but also the counselors. This past summer, Ellen Field (9) served as a counselor at Camp Able and describes the experience as transformative.
“I just kind of viewed children with disabilities like ... like I felt sorry for them, because all of mainstream media makes it seem that way,” Ellen says as she explained her perspective on children with disabilities before attending the camp, noting that she had never really had any experience with people with disabilities before. Her initial feelings of “sympathy” are not uncommon: this is one of the many judgements people often make based on the label “special needs.”
However, Ellen said that by the end of the week, her opinion on children with disabilities had been completely altered: “They are not defined by their disability; [they’re] just regular kids.”
John Dreyfus, the associate director at St. Columba, agrees. He says kids with disabilities like to and should be treated, “like everyone else.”
Camp Able was inspired by Camp Bratton-Green in Mississippi. This is where Dreyfus, along with the founder of Memphis’ Camp Able Reverend Kyle Bennett, had his first experience with disabled children.
Both Mr. Dreyfus and Ellen agree that it is important for more people to learn about disabilities and the special needs kids themselves, a task which they say is best accomplished through exposure. As, Mr. Dreyfus suggests, “find a way that gets you involved.” Being with the kids and being there to witness their emotions and actions can change your perspective entirely, just as it did Ellen’s: “It opened my eyes to a bigger picture than just my life and the people that I come in contact with.”