General Reflections

Beautiful Difference

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to quickly introduce myself and tell you about a short documentary titled “Beautiful Difference” that I’ve just completed.

My name is Nathaniel Torok and I’m an aspiring documentary filmmaker from Vancouver, Canada. I became knowledgeable about Camp PALS after working for several summers at a youth program in Philadelphia. This exposure allowed me to see what a special place Camp PALS is. I was looking for an idea for my first film, and I believed there was an important story to be told here. I wanted to try and attempt to share the incredible experiences that so many people have had while attending the camp. I approached the directors of Camp PALS about the idea and they were incredibly helpful and supportive in getting everything set up. I ended up focusing the story on campers Daniel Chaplin, Katie McCurdy, and their counselors Kelsey Siegel and Max Staplin. I followed these individuals and their families in Brooklyn, New York, Birmingham, Alabama, and the outskirts of Philadelphia before filming for a week at Camp PALS. What emerged was not a film about Camp PALS itself, but an intimate look at two families who have raised children born with developmental disabilities. I was excited to hear that the film was just accepted into the “We Care Film Festival” in India. It’s a traveling festival that will visit parts of India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal, and Turkey. I’m excited that people will get a chance to see it.

Making this film was the most rewarding and difficult experience I have ever had. The final film is far from perfect, and I can’t even begin to count the amount of mistakes I made along the way, but it’s something I’m incredibly proud of. I hope that you get a chance to see it.

Thank you very much,
Nathaniel Torok

2011 Board and Directors Meeting

This past weekend the Camp PALS Board and Directors met in New York City for over 14 hours of meetings. We discussed the logistics of Camp PALS 2011 but most importantly shared our visions for what Camp PALS could be in the future. As you can see from our post-it notes below, we are going to be quite busy!

In the following weeks we will be posting about some exciting new plans, including our 2nd annual fundraising campaign, the details on our expansion into two camps to accommodate our biggest growth ever, the addition of two new Assistant Directors to our team, and the development of a new pilot program for Camp PALS alumni.

In addition, each member of the Board and Directors team has taken on specific tasks to accomplish in the next year. Some examples include:

  • identifying new and larger grant opportunities
  • designing professional brochures
  • renting golf carts to use for support staff on campus
  • building a year-long online Camp PALS store
  • pursuing public speaking training for our campers and counselors
  • enhancing the annual water balloon fight (& possibly setting a world record?)
  • upgrading our formal dance at the end of the week
  • …and more!

We know that we are not the only ones with big dreams for Camp PALS. As a member of our Camp PALS family, we are always excited to hear your new ideas and suggestions. Feel free to contact us individually or at

Thank you for your continued support,
Jenni, on behalf of Camp PALS Board and Directors

Perfectly Human: My Brother Jason

Check out this beautiful essay written by our very own Jenni Newbury (see original):

I don’t remember life before Jason was born. I imagine I enjoyed my two years as an only child, but I simply have no recollection of life without him. The memories I do have include:pulling Jason across our tile floor to hear him giggle, sitting together on the couch as we went on an imaginary trip with my dolls, and running alongside him the very first time he rode a two-wheel bicycle. There are other memories as well: visiting doctor’s offices, watching therapists come in and out of our house, and constantly translating Jason’s developing speech to others. The memories meld together, not one more specific than another, not one less “normal” than another.

The first time I remember defining Down Syndrome was when my parents and I gave a presentation to Jason’s fourth grade class. We knew his peers were asking questions and felt if we could explain some details, they would be more accepting as they got older. They were, at times - but not always. As a big sister I defended my brother when others took advantage of him or teased him. Many times Jason didn’t even notice, but I felt it was my responsibility to guard his dignity.

As we grew up, I worked to create new ways for Jason to be included. In high school I created a club that hosted social opportunities for students with and without disabilities. I co-founded Camp PALS, a weeklong sleep away camp for young adults with Down Syndrome. In college, I founded Princeton Disability Awareness and hosted an annual Down Syndrome Conference for children with Down Syndrome, their siblings and families. Through each of these programs, I worked to bring others into the world where I lived, and provide them with the experience of knowing someone with Down Syndrome.

For many who have never met someone with Down Syndrome, it might be difficult to imagine how much can be gained from someone with a disability, someone who–by society’s standards–is lacking. People with Down Syndrome are burdened by many stereotypes–most degrading, if not offensive. None of them come to mind when I think Jason. Through Jason, I have learned what it means to be strong, courageous, sincere, and honest. Jason has shown me how to forgive others, how to experience joy in the smallest of moments, and how to love radically.

After graduating Princeton, I found a new home working for Special Olympics. Their mission challenges and inspires me every day, but the real honor is working for an organization that has directly enhanced Jason’s life. Beyond sport, which has provided Jason with many opportunities, Special Olympics has taught him about advocacy.

Over the past two years, Jason has developed a new hero–his name is Tim Shriver. Although not completely lacking in superhuman powers, Tim became Jason’s hero for a simple reason: he gave Jason a voice. When Jason spoke, Tim listened. When Jason attended a meeting, Tim asked for his insight. When Jason was by himself, Tim joined him. Through this simple acceptance, these acts of inclusion, and this demonstration that he valued Jason, Tim transformed Jason’s world and empowered him to begin reaching his full potential. Tim represents only a small example of the power that a movement like Special Olympics brings with it. A power that, to no one’s surprise, started with the passion and determination of a sibling.

So why does this matter? As a sibling of someone with Down Syndrome, the question I am asked most often is the following: Would you change it if you could? If you could separate Jason from his diagnosis of Down Syndrome, would you take away the disability?

Looking back, I consider the many ways I’ve worked to make Jason included, to have people see his value. The common theme is that I’ve never once considered changing Jason. I try to give others new experiences, transform people’s misconceptions and re-direct their expectations. Like a recent Special Olympics advertisement I read, my goal has been to make others rethink, to consider “truth without judgment, love without boundaries, respect without requirements.” If I am eliminating a disability, the disability is not in Jason–it’s in the world.

So what is it like to have a sibling with Down Syndrome? It is an honor. Jason’s life is nothing short of a gift, and his presence in mine is one of God’s greatest blessings.

Counselors say hello, Part 3

Another first-time counselor, Crissy Plana, is excited to spend her first full week at Camp PALS:

A few years ago I had the opportunity to come visit Camp PALS and attend the closing ceremony. Though not directly involved, I felt pride, excitement, and amazement as campers and counselors around the auditorium spoke about their favorite moments during the past week at camp. I am incredibly thrilled for my first year (of hopefully many years) as a counselor at camp and am looking forward to creating my own memories there. After graduating from college in May, I am ready for fun, ready for adventure, and ready to learn more (but will there be s'mores too?). Counting down the days ‘til I get to meet all the campers and counselors this Summer!


Counselors say hello, Part 2

First-time counselor Davy Dworzak will be traveling all the way from his hometown of Seattle, WA, to experience Camp PALS. He is quite excited for his week. He shares some thoughts below:

Dear Camp PALS Family,

My name is Davy and this will be my first year helping out at Camp PALS. I am really excited and looking forward to all the fun camp activities, especially Camp Olympics! Camp Olympics comprises of excited relay games that will put teamwork to the test. Get ready to run, jump, limbo, dance, and do whatever it takes to lead your team to victory.

The picture below is of my sister Jenny and me at the top of the largest waterfall in Europe, the Rhine Falls in Neuhausen, Switzerland. Last summer my sister and I toured Spain, France, Germany, and Switzerland. I can’t wait to tell you a bunch of our stories. We had a fantastic time, scaling the Eiffel Tower, eating crepes and ratatouille in the streets of Paris, and running through the streets of Lausanne all in training for Camp Olympics this summer.

That’s about it for now. See you all very soon. Davy

Monica & David

Yesterday, I got a chance to see Monica & David– a documentary about two individuals with Down syndrome who recently got married. The documentary was filmed by Monica’s cousin who originally was just filming the wedding for family memories– but soon realized what a special story theirs was. Josh, Abby, counselor Cristina Plana and I watched the film among a packed audience at its North American debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Lucky for us, the stars of the film– Monica and David– were also at the screening and we were able to snag a photo with them.

For more information about the film and to find out where it is screening near you, visit


Some hellos from our counselor staff

In anticipation for Camp PALS 2010, we asked some counselors to let us know what they have been up to recently. We will be posting these pieces periodically as Camp PALS gets closer. In the first installment, Clint Armistead is featured:

While I’ve only been to Camp PALS once, I can attest that the rumor is true. Camp PALS really is the best week of my whole year. Ever since it ended, I’ve been just waiting to go back. I’ve stayed busy with my senior year of college studying journalism. However, most of my time has revolved around Special Olympics. I saw Jenni Newbury, one of the Camp PALS Directors, in DC at a Special Olympics function. She was talking to her congressman about continued funding, and I was there leading a group of young people hoping to organize some youth initiatives, like Spread the Word to End the Word and the Youth Summit at the Special Olympics Summer Games in Nebraska. Luckily, I will still have time to spend a week at Cabrini College. I know it’s gonna be great. Can’t wait for the water balloon fight.


Photo from NDSS Luncheon

It’s been over two weeks since Camp PALS was honored by the NDSS, but we’re still beaming with excitement.  We received the following photo of Today Show host, Meredith Vieira, presenting the honor to us and we wanted to share it with you.  As we stated in our speeches, we accepted this honor on behalf of YOU: the Camp PALS community.  So congratulations to everyone reading this!

See you in three short weeks-

The "Other" Four

Meet Jess Trief, Robert McRae, Daniel de Zeeuw, and Raj Bhandari. These four dedicated, talented, and highly motivated individuals comprise the Camp PALS Board. While the Directors worry about making sure that the upcoming summer is the best possible, Jess, Robert, Daniel, and Raj are working hard on projects, grants, counselor programs, and fundraising to make sure that Camp PALS continues to have resources and staff to get bigger and better in future years.

Simply put, they are the “other” four: you might not know their names or faces yet, but they are just as important to our organization as the 3 J’s and A.

On behalf of Jenni, Abby, and Jason, I want to thank Jess, Robert, Daniel, and Raj for their hard work. We are proud to know all four of you, and it is difficult to put into words all that you have meant to this organization. We are so lucky to have you on our team!


Special Olympics World Games

A few weeks ago my brother Jason and I had the opportunity to attend the Special Olympics World Games. We were able to watch athletic competition, participate in the Global Youth Summit and join the first International Special Olympics College summit. We had the opportunity to spend time with Tim Shriver, John C. McGinley, Michelle Kwan, the Secretary of Education and VP Biden, among others. During our time at Special Olympics, we contributed to the creation of a new 3-Word Video, a type of video that Special Olympics uses to advertise the courage, compassion and humanity shown through their programs.

We also began the planning for the first-ever International End the R-Word Day, scheduled for March 31, 2009. This campaign was further fueled by O'Reilly’s public apology for the use of the word “retard” on his show by Dick Morris. Tim Shriver wrote a piece that was published in the Huffington Post describing our time in Boise.

Overall, we had a blast and we can’t wait to find out some ways that Camp PALS and Special Olympics can work together!

- Jenni & Jason Newbury

Note from Katrina Hintz

We wanted to share a post that Counselor Katrina Hintz wrote on her mother’s blog about her sister, Emma:

Growing up, there have been many people who have had a strong impact on my life. I have had lots of role models and people to look up too, but the one person who has had the biggest impact on my life and who has helped make me the person I am today is my seven year old sister, Emma Sage.

The life lessons I have learned while growing up with her as my sister have helped me; choose a career path, made me more accepting of others, and opened up my eyes to a whole new world. I was never once upset at the fact that my sister had Down syndrome, but I was upset that she was going to grow up in a world that is not always accepting of differences or kind to people who have disabilities. If people would take the time to get to know someone who has a disability they would find out that they are some of the greatest people they will ever meet. 

My sister has opened up so many doors for me, and I find myself learning something new from her everyday. I have met some of my greatest friends because of her, and have had some of my fondest memories because of her. Every summer I am a counselor at Camp PALS, which is a camp for teenagers with Down syndrome. I can honestly say that this is not only the highlight of my summer, but also the highlight of my year. Although it is only a weeklong camp, the memories, friendships and lessons I take away are ones that will stay with me forever. Being around all the campers changes your perception on life, you see how they live each day to its fullest, laughing and being care free and you realize that this is how we should all live our lives. I don’t think my sister will ever realize the impact she has had on my life, but I know I would not be the person I am today without her.

Thank you Emma Sage, you are such a wonderful and inspiring little sister.
I love you soooooooo much!!!

Note from Kelsey Siegel

Counselor Kelsey Siegel reflects on her memories of Camp PALS and her camper, Katie:

This summer I had the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life. For one week in June, I forgot about everything in the world beyond Hannah Montana, High School Musical, making friends, and being the happiest I’d been in a very long time. Spending a week with all these special, gifted people made me realize how much in life we take for granted and how little we truly understand. Life’s never easy for anyone; We all have our problems and upsets we have to deal with.

After spending a week with my camper, I learned that all the conflicts I worry about on a day to day basis really don’t matter. What matters is that you’re happy, and that people are happy with you the way you are.

Katie is the most genuine person I’ve ever met. She wasn’t out there to please me or anyone else that didn’t like her just the way she is. She’s funny, intelligent, stubborn, caring, and determined. She’s confident in everything she does and she knows exactly what she wants. But more importantly, she knows who she is. And she knows that the rest of the world should know who she is, too.

Kelsey was so inspired by Katie that she wrote a song about her:

Some pictures of Katie and Kelsey from 2008:

Reunion in Princeton

Camper Megan Cloyes offers her perspective on the recent reunion in Princeton:
The Camp Pals reunion was fantastic because of the food. It was great and that dessert was enormous and delicious. I had a great time. I liked seeing Josh and his brother Matt and Jinho and Eddy and Jenny and Mrs. Newberry and Mrs. O Connor and all of the others. I met two girls, and one of their mothers, they were very nice. I had a great time. The pictures were magnificent. I looked great in it. I’d love to see everyone again.

Sleepover Party!

A few weeks ago four-time camper Mickey Betts generously invited his latest counselor Jim Finegan and director Abby Kolker to spend a night at his home in Teaneck, NJ.

We started the evening off rocking out to metal music, then we chowed down on delicious Chinese food and ice cream sundays, before a late night showing of Spiderman 3.

Below are a couple of pictures from the weekend.  Thanks you so much to the entire Betts family for being such wonderful hosts!

Baltimore/D.C. Reunion!

Counselors, campers, siblings, and parents met up this past Saturday for an end-of-summer Camp PALS reunion. Almost thirty people attended the event, held at Champps Americana restaurant in Columbia, MD. Lots of burgers were consumed, and everyone reminisced about Camp PALS and talked about getting ready for the upcoming school year. Check out the great picture from the luncheon below (click to enlarge), courtesy of the Wheeler family!

And for those of you who were unable to come to this party, we hope to have additional reunions in a location near you!

Back from Boston

What a weekend!

All 15 of us counselors and directors who made the the trip to Boston had an incredible time.

The presentation on Sunday morning went well. A special thanks goes out to Julia Williams, Eli Lewis, Ashley High, and John Shulby. They joined Abby and Josh as presenters, and each gave wonderful speeches about Camp.

Lunch was also a lot of fun. Campers Melissa Mann, Joe Collins, Mickey Betts, and Dan Chaplin and special guest Emma Sage (counselors Kat and Greta Hintz’s younger sister) joined the grouped mentioned above, and we feasted on fried seafood. In fact, it was so much fun that we forgot to take pictures. (sorry!) If anyone out there has some photos from the meal, pass them along, and we will put them on the blog.

Finally, we wanted to start posting news stories about our Campers and Counselors on the blog. Please shoot us an email, and we will post links to the stories right here.

Redefining What's "Cool"

In the weeks following Camp this year, a remarkable thing happened: counselors, one by one, changed their Facebook profile pictures to pictures of them with their campers. No one was told or asked to do so, but counselors did anyway. For whatever reason, dozens of counselors decided that it would be “cool” to change their pictures.

This trend was remarkable enough that we felt it blog-worthy. Below you’ll find a handful of our counselors’ current profile pictures, taken straight from Facebook.

Letter from Kate Danish

Hi my name is Kate Danish I am 22 years old I been at Camp PALS for 5 years I graduation from high school 2007. This year for camp we had a lot of campers this year do you know Paul Fleming it is Kates fleming brother We also have James K with us he his funny and kind to people We also have Troy Daly he is nice kind and he is funny and sweet next person is Jared he like to call him he his funny and he is sweet and kind. Next person is Jordan M is nice kind and he is a joker Next person is Joe is sweet funny kind next person is Zack R is funny he cares about people he is nice and wonderful Next person is Jesse is nice funny and kind he like to hang out. Next person is Gillian is nice funny and sweet on monday we went to the movies and it was somebody birthday was today it was lauren ttard 17 birthday next person is Jason T is nice kind sweet he make us laugh next is Jenni is nice sweet wonderful and also she works so hard to try to make us happy Next person is Josh is nice funny sweet person Next person is Abby she was my last year bodyguard. Next person is Kyle is nice funny and smart for Tuesday we doing bowling Next Tyler Drown he is funny and smart he love to play with us Next person is Heather is nice funny and smart Next person is Adam is funny smart and kind. Next person is Lauren W she is nice funny and smart and make us laugh. Wednesday we went to the beach we had fun Next person is Gabe is nice funny and he is smart Next person is Robert is nice funny sweet and lovable Next person Evan is funny sweet and smart. Thursday we going to mini gold and Arcade Next person is Brian is nice funny smart and sweet Next person is his brother mike his funnyhe like to play with us I love that at the beach he is the bet I like him a lot. Next person is Maggie is nice kind funny she his the best I love her friday night we had a sance to go to Next person is Amy D is nice funny I love her a lot she his the best in the End of my speech I like to thank the directors because first of I like to thank Jason T because he is so funny talent he his funny and smart and I want to thank Josh he is funny and he makes everybody laugh Next person is Jenni is funny and she takes care of kids I love her she his funny Next is Abby she is my best friend I also want to thank Kate F she his the bext I really have been very close to her she is the best thank you for being the best I made something for you. thank you.