My name is Laura Karp and I am 18 years old, this year was my first summer as a counselor at Camp PALS, and it was the best part of my summer by far! I was assigned to a camper named Monica and we got along great. We fully enjoyed every activity, from the beach to the trip to 5Below, “Yogaerobics,” the Farewell Dance, and much much more!
After orientation, I was completely psyched for Camper Arrival Day. I had a lot of previous experience with people with Down Syndrome (through Best Buddies and an internship I had) but I was unsure of what Monica would be like and if she would enjoy all the activities. The week sure seemed jam-packed! I was really excited to meet Monica because when we spoke on the phone it seemed like we had a lot in common. She’s really into sports, drama and country music; three things I enjoy as well! We also share a love of chocolate chip cookies!
One thing was for sure; the week was completely filled to the brim with new and exciting activities for the campers and counselors. Monica had acting sessions in the morning and played the grandma in a “Little Red Riding Hood” activity; she was great! I taught the cooking sessions (we made magic layer bars and rice krispie treats) while Monica got to meet new counselors and campers in the activities of her choice. One night we went out bowling and Monica beat me by quite a lot (at least 30 points…); we both had a great time getting to know our team, the Spunky Starfish!
When we went to Ocean City Monica wasn’t feeling too great, yet we still had a wonderful time. Everyone was really kind and understanding, from Kat and I doing all the work on the surries (4 person bikes), to the nurse, Jason and Julian all paying special attention to her after lunch. Once she started to feel better we walked up and down the boardwalk, we even bought matching shirts! (Pictured below).
Monica and I both had a great time at camp; she met a lot of new friends and was able to push herself to try new things. For example, though she’s normally shy, on Kareoke night she went onstage and danced while her friends sang! I had a truly life-changing time at Camp PALS and am already counting down the days until next summer!
Monica and I wore our matching shirts to Putt-Putt Golfing and the Arcade. (Yes, she beat me again)
I made this collage so that everyone can remember all the fun times we had this summer! I hope you enjoy it! Have a great year and see you next summer!
June 24, 2007
After yesterday’s closing program, my heart is so full of gratitude for each and every one of you and the commitment you made to make a difference.
As parents, it is our hope and dream that our children will be embraced, loved and accepted for who they are, and that they will experience the best of what life has to offer them. Being parents of young adults with Down syndrome it is our fear that they won’t. The reality of our world today is that society as a whole does not embrace or celebrate the gifts of individuals with disabilities nor are their contributions truly recognized.
Yesterday at the closing program as I watched the slide show and then listened as both campers and counselors spoke from the heart about their experiences at Camp Pals, I was moved to tears. I felt genuine and unconditional acceptance and love. The faces in the slide show glowed with pure joy. It was evident that all were embraced and their gifts were shared and celebrated.
As the counselors spoke about realizing what was “really important”, and “living in the moment”, and “just being”, it reminded me of one of my favorite passages of Henri Nouwen, a renowned 20th century theologian. Nouwen spent the latter part of his life living in community with individuals with disabilities. In speaking about his experience Nouwen said, “I see without hesitation here how much they give to those who are able to receive. They give generously and without hesitation. They give their hearts. What for us "normal” people often remains hidden behind rationalizations, preoccupations and fear is for the handicapped people the most available gift. They share their love, joy and gratitude and also their anxiety, sadness and disappointment with such directness that we are challenged to respond from our own hearts. They put us in touch with our often hidden gifts and weaknesses, and become our healers, without even knowing it.“
Thank you for being open to receive and for responding from your hearts.
One of the most significant outcomes of your experience at Camp Pals will be the far reaching and rippling effects you will have on others in their attitudes about individuals with disabilities. Katie’s younger brothers attended the closing program and what you all had to say helped them to see their sister in a new way, with a new appreciation. Thank you for that.
As you go out into the world as the future leaders, teachers, parents, neighbors, lawyers, doctors, legislators, pastors, rabbis and business owners you will be making decisions about how our world welcomes and supports people with disabilities. You will be the conduit of change and will make global differences, more than you ever thought a week at Camp Pals would do. Based on what I heard and saw yesterday, I have faith that each and every one of you will, how could you not, after having your hearts changed forever.
Best wishes to each of you as you travel the road of life.
1st year camper
Katie and her friend Emily are pictured arriving at Camp for the first time.
As a parent of one of the original campers of PALS 2004, I remember the uneasy feeling of leaving my son in the hands of a first-time Camp run by teens. Although I knew these teens to be responsible young adults, it was still a difficult decision. After the first year, I knew it was an amazing opportunity for Jason and I never thought twice about it. This year I had the opportunity to see Camp PALS from a different perspective. I was asked to be a resident advisor in one of the additional houses set up due to the expanding enrollment.
In a camp that runs like clockwork, I was basically another set of hands available if needed (which was really not that often). The allocation of job assignments is so well organized that I wish I could implement such a technique with my family in our home (to view it in action is reminiscent of the mice cleaning up in “Cinderella”). The excitement and anticipation of the counselors waiting for the arrival of their campers can only be compared to the feeling we get each year as we turn into Cabrini campus with our own campers. I learned so much over the week that I thought I should share some of it with you.
It was a privilege to get to know some of the counselors better, and to see them share their many talents with the campers as they taught various activities throughout the week. I have always admired the counselors who give so freely of their time with such a strong sense of dedication and responsibility, but if at all possible I gained a stronger respect for them as I viewed the sincerity of their actions. In one instance at the beach a camper only wanted to get his feet wet, so I offered to stay with him so his counselor could go further out in the waves and help with other campers. The counselor was reluctant to leave his camper with me because he didn’t want the camper to miss out on all the fun in the waves. The counselor to camper connection is a bond that’s tough to break.
Spending time with the campers was always a treat. They have so many hidden talents that I only wish they lived more locally. Sarah’s recollection of historical events would have made her an amazing tutor for Jason in his World History class last year, and Sam’s meticulous cleaning and gardening skills are invaluable. And I will always remember Dan’s concern that I enjoy the semi-formal as he good-heartedly kept finding me new dance partners.
I have always praised Camp PALS as an amazing experience for both campers and counselors. Having had the opportunity to step inside for a week, I realize it’s a remarkable program from the inside out and I’ll always treasure the memories of being a part of it.
With sincere appreciation for a wonderful week,
I am sure there are many camp pals campers who are ‘blogging’ for the first time in their lives!!! Well I am doing the same.
I was so inspired reading some of the blogs of our campers that I wanted to add my bit..
Camp Pals 2007 was the BEST. Last summer was great and we thought that we could never surpass it - wow we sure did.
We all cannot wait for '08. Perhaps more Pals, perhaps more fun.
This is our forth summer and every summer we find more fun things to do. We were inspired this summer to go to the beach - who knows what we will do next summer.
Thanks again to Jason Josh and Jen for doing all of the hard work while my business partner Adrian and I just sit back and enjoy.
We are still working on the best way to share this summer’s pictures with you, but in the meantime, I wanted to post a group shot that our camp photographer, Ali Bronsdon, took before the Chris Burke performance at Haverford College.
Ironically, it was me who first mentioned to the other directors to have a Camp PALS blog. I say that neither to take credit for its creation (Jason is the computer guy) nor its content (campers, counselors, and especially Ben have done an incredible job!). Instead, I do so to make a point. It was I who thought that it was possible to put Camp PALS into words.
And now, finally, nearly two weeks later, I finally find myself sitting down and attempting to reflect on the experience that now seems, strangely, so long ago.
How to put Camp PALS into words? It seemed like an easy task that Sunday two weeks ago. Writing about Camp PALS is what I do. I write most of the letters that go out to Campers and counselors during the year. I write the short explanations to potential funders about our goals and methods. But somehow, during the week, I found myself utterly incapable of explaining the experience. Maybe it was the fatigue, I surmised. Or potentially the sheer lack of time to sit down and reflect. Besides, I reasoned, Ben Coulter was doing a great job organizing the posts; why should I interfere.
So here I am, two weeks later, attempting to reflect. And I begin to wonder if the question is not how to put Camp PALS into wordsbut actually can you? And, for me, the answer is no. I find myself impotent to express Camp in concrete language.
Yes, I have many great memories of Camp. Of Eli, of Ashley, of Bryan, of Chris, of my college roommate, Daniel, one of our new counselors, and many more. And yes, I have many anecdotal recollections. But, to me, none of these memories, stories, or thoughts can come close to describing Camp PALS.
At Camp PALS, we do lots of really cool things. Bowling, tennis, yoga, the beach, and miniature golf are just a few examples. One of the best things about being a director is that I get to walk around and experience all of these incredible opportunities. But Camp PALS isn’t bowling, it isn’t tennis, and it isn’t the beach (even if the official t-shirt’s palm tree might beg to differ).
So then what it is? It might be an up-tempo melody, a nice sensation, an unexpected emotion. But one thing for sure is that it is about being there, experiencing it all. The joy, the fatigue, the smiles, and, at the end of the week, the tears. With friends. Real friends. Who care about you. Who you know will still be there year after year after year.
And, suddenly, I begin to understand why, as I was growing up, my friends could never explain their summers at camp to me. Why they would travel to far-off places to visit their camp friends. Why they always seemed to be missing something during the year. And if Camp PALS has turned out to be just another of those unexplainable experiences – if it has turned out to be just another summer camp – I couldn’t be happier.
[Josh Stein is a co-founder and co-director of Camp PALS.]
This past week - on Tuesday, as a matter of fact - I experienced the most profound bus ride of my life. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “bus ride” and “profound” don’t go together. And before Tuesday afternoon, they didn’t for me either. Until then, bus rides were just a sunk cost of getting to the destination - a time to sleep, to zone out, or at the very best, to read the paper - but certainly never a time to reflect on life or just stop and be thankful just to be. But my bus ride on Tuesday - for a variety of reasons - was unlike any bus ride I’d ever been on.
As we trekked back to Cabrini from a wonderful trip to the Jersey shore, I sat next to camper Mickey Betts. Mickey and I slept for the first half of the ride, which, as any counselor will tell you, is standard operating procedure for a Camp PALS bus ride. However, shortly after we woke up, we were treated to a series of awe-inspiring sights that made this bus ride a particularly memorable one.
First, when we crossed over the Schuylkill River on I-95, we were able to look down on the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where the imposing battleships docked in the harbor shone magnificently in the afternoon sun. As I looked over at Mickey, he said with a huge smile on his face, “That is so awesome, dude.”
Not long after we crossed over the shipyard, we came upon the Philadelphia Airport. We saw rows of planes parked on the runway in a perfectly symmetrical formation, much like the battleships in the harbor. As we gazed upon that fleet, an enormous jet roared above, sliced down over our bus, and glided flawlessly onto the runway, another journey complete. Again, I looked over at Mickey, and again he observed with a big grin, “That is so awesome, dude.”
But there was even still more to come. Traveling through the city, we enjoyed the music that Julian was playing for us on the radio. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers came on, we suddenly became rockers, Mickey pounding the drums and me shredding the electric guitar. Ahead of us, camper Jon Mattern joined in on his own guitar, and we jammed on down the highway for 5 or 6 glorious minutes. Then, when “Party Like a Rock Star” followed on a different station, the three of us traded turns singing, beat-boxing, and - well - partying like rock stars, much to the delight I’m sure of the many half-asleep riders around us.
Finally, as the skyscrapers and billboards of the city slowly morphed into the tall trees and majestic hills surrounding Radnor, we sat in awe of the landscape around us, with the sun shining on our faces and the wind whipping through our hair. It was a perfect afternoon ride on the open road.
At that point, Mickey began to reflect on his experience at Camp PALS. He talked about our team, the Whales, and how without just one of the 12 of us, our team wouldn’t be the same. He then said, “This week is the best. I wish I could have all this fun every week and it never went away. Even the bus is fun. I could ride around like this all night, maybe even forever.”
His last insight surprised me - didn’t he want to get back to camp? Why would he want to stay on the bus? We’ve got places to go, people to see, things to do - things that are much more productive uses of our time than a bus ride. Right?
Then, as I began to think about all that we’d seen, the fun we’d had rocking out with our buddy Jon, and Mickey’s reflections on Camp PALS, I realized how meaningful our bus ride had been. I was so impressed by Mickey’s perspective. Rather than work himself into a hurried frenzy to arrive at our destination, he savored the opportunity to just be, and to appreciate the fun friends and stunning sights around him on our journey back to camp. He did not allow the goal of getting to our destination eclipse the opportunities that the journey there provided him to grow, learn, and reflect.
And as Camp PALS nears the end, and as we edge closer and closer to our destination here today, I realize how thankful I am to have shared this unforgettable journey with my fellow counselors and these wonderful campers, especially my camper, Jason. What I learned so emphatically this week and what I have come to admire so much about each of these campers is how they savor every single second of every day - having fun, building friendships, and making an indelible mark on the world around them, rising defiantly above any so-called “disabilities” they may have. Each of these campers has taught me profound lessons about compassion, perseverance, and unmatched purity of heart that I will never, ever forget.
And above all, these remarkable individuals have taught me that the journeys we take are often more meaningful than the destinations to which we arrive, and because of that, I will never look at bus rides the same way again.
While there are many ways we work to improve camp every year, this year we had two over-arching goals we hoped to accomplish.
Our first objective was to increase camper-to-camper interaction. In the past, campers have made great new friends- but often only with the counselors. This year, we hoped to change that. Amazingly, we could see an improvement as early as arrival day, and the support between campers continued to grow. When a camper was upset or nervous, the counselor on his or her way to help was quickly beaten by two or three other campers who were eager to encourage or console. On bus rides, the campers chose to sit with each other rather than with their counselors. The interaction grew by leaps and bounds this year and many strong friendships were made.
Our second main goal was to maintain the intimacy of camp while we expanded. With nearly 100 participants living in 3 separate houses, this was surely a difficult task. However, campers and counselors alike were able to get to know everyone well. Credit goes to the new choice activities that facilitated bonding time between new pairs. The nightly camp-wide meetings, always concluding with a quiet rendition of the PALS theme song and a collective yawn, also helped promote this sense of unity.
Everyone agrees that Camp PALS 2007 was our best summer yet! And we have already begun thinking about ways to make summer 2008 even better!
Take care and keep in touch,
The Camp PALS directors