Baker Summer Camp
This guest post is by Sarah Jennings, from the Major Gifts department. Here she details her experience when she visited camps who were awarded Baker Camp scholarships funds in 2010.
Almost two years ago, Malcolm and Norma Baker, parents of a 39-year-old son on the spectrum and long-time contributors to the AGP research, funded by Autism Speaks, invited me to their home to discuss a project they wanted to “hand over” to develop into a national program. For ten years through the regional centers in Los Angeles, Malcolm and Norma had funded a summer camp program for children on the autism spectrum.
Their dream was to see the program expand nationally. They knew that Autism Speaks was the organization to go to for the program grow and flourish. We accepted the challenge and the Baker Summer Camp Program was born.
The summer of 2010 was the inaugural year. I had the pleasure of visiting five of the camps we funded in Southern California, from Burbank to Torrance, the West Side to Hollywood. I saw kids playing in groups, interacting with peers, involved in dress-up games, outdoor sports and picnic lunches. Kids who never rode a bicycle before were riding bikes; children afraid of water learned to go down the water slide and shrieked with joy as they ran through a water sprinkler.
From one-on-one interaction, pairing “spectrum buddies with non-spectrum buddies” to visiting a major film studio and making their own film, kids enjoyed just being kids. They learned from each other. They overcame fears. They made friends. They had fun. In other words, they fully enjoyed their camp experiences, just like other kids who are NOT on the autism spectrum.
“We always dreamed about sending our son Randy to camp,” said Norma. “But it was not to be. At the time he was little there were no camps that could handle a boy like our son. We wanted him to learn how to fit in. We wanted him to have fun. We wanted him to learn how to be social. We wanted him to have friends. Now that he is an adult we can see how he could have benefitted from such an experience. We wanted to give families who can’t afford it an opportunity to send their children to camp and have fun while they have a break and enjoy some respite.”
The Baker Summer Camp program funding “saved” more than one program I visited. One camp director told me that when he started his camp ten years ago it was 95% private pay. Now the tables have turned and it is only 5% private pay. If he had not received scholarship money for his campers he would have had to cancel his camp program. Another director introduced me to identical twins on the spectrum. Their mother said they had never had an experience like this and she was so grateful that she could send the girls to camp together. “It is the first break I have had in the summer in the nine years since they were born. I can’t thank you enough.”
Family Services provides resources and information. If you have a question, contact the Autism Response Team today. If you’re concerned that your child may be affected with autism or if you’ve received a diagnosis, browse the Tools for Families section, where you’ll find our 100 Day Kit, and the Autism Video Glossary. If you’d like to do a quick search for service providers near you, select Find a Local Resource and browse the Resource Guide.