Almost exactly four years ago, I was sitting in a room packed full of people in Philadelphia at the 2003 National Down Syndrome Congress Convention. I remember listening intently to the speakers as they discussed a program made to create friendships between teenagers with and without disabilities; PALS, they called it. I was inspired and excited to see two teenagers who seemed to share my passion to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
As a sibling, it is my goal to ensure that my brother has each and every opportunity available to him. I decided to approach them to ask how I could get involved. From then on it was a whirlwind of events. Jason and Josh helped me to create a PALS chapter at my own high school. In the midst of organizing a club that quickly grew to over 100 members, I was invited to work with Jason and Josh on developing a camp for teenagers with Down Syndrome - Camp PALS. We started discussing and planning and accepting applicants, and before I knew what hit me, “The 3 J’s” were standing in front of a group of parents who were thanking us for creating an unbelievable week for their children. I don’t think reality set in for a few more weeks, not until we were sitting in front of hundreds of people, as PALS was given the President’s Award at the 2004 NDSC Convention. Wow, the difference a year can make.
Now, after a few “transition” years, Camp PALS is coming full circle once again. Jason Toff, Jenna Aidikoff, Jason Newbury and myself will be traveling to Kansas City, MO to present an exhibit and a workshop at the 2007 NDSC Convention. We are so excited about our trip - we hope to find more campers, counselors and sponsors - but most of all we look forward to being encouraged and inspired by the incredible things happening in the Down Syndrome Community. If you or your family is planning on attending the NDSC as well, please let us know! We would also appreciate any written testimonials about Camp PALS that we could bring with us. Please feel free to post them on the blog or email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we hit this checkpoint in the life of Camp PALS once more, I can’t express how grateful myself and the other directors are for the incredible campers, counselors, parents and sponsors who contribute to this program. I don’t know where the time has gone, but I know these past four years have contained the most inspirational experiences of my life.