palsprograms

Meet Sarah, Our New Social Media Intern!

We are excited to introduce Sarah Henry as our newest member of the PALS family. Sarah will be joining as our Social Media Intern, working with Emesha and Michelle to cultivate our community on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and our blog. She is looking forward to engaging with you on our social media platforms and producing interesting content to keep the PALS magic alive all year long!

Feel free to introduce yourself or congratulate her at sarah_henry@palsprograms.org. Or comment or DM her on our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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Hi PALS Family,

My name is Sarah, and I am delighted to be the Social Media Intern for PALS Programs! 

I am a recent graduate of West Chester University with a degree in Psychology, though my true passion is videography. This May I married my best friend, Joe, and we are settling down in the Philadelphia area. 

I fell in love with PALS this summer at the Chicago and Philadelphia 1 Camps, where I volunteered as videographer. The opportunity to blend videography and media with my newfound enthusiasm for PALS was life changing. For me, the magic happened when I was filming the first Camper at arrival in Chicago. Being able to capture that joy as the Campers ran through the tunnel was enchanting, and I raced to my room to edit as soon as I could. 

Because of PALS, I grew personally and professionally, and I know PALS will continue to help me grow as the Social Media Intern. I am so grateful for the opportunity to interact with everyone through our social media platforms and produce exciting, new content for you to enjoy. Feel free to comment or message me any ideas you would like to see!

PALS love,

Sarah Henry

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Announcing Our New Board Member: Sonya Li

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Please join us in welcoming our newest board member, Sonya Li! She’ll be joining us at our upcoming board meeting on April 30th. Sonya is a former Camp PALS Counselor who joined the PALS Family in 2005. She’s stayed involved with PALS through the years as a long-term supporter. Sonya lives in San Francisco and works for Angel Island Capital as an investment professional. She is our first West Coast based board member and was at Camper Arrival for the inaugural Camp PALS San Francisco in 2012. 

We are lucky to have Sonya and are excited to see where her continued involvement and support takes PALS!

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Reeve’s Tees And PALS Partnership

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What PALS Programs Meant To Me

By Shana Anderson, founder of Reeve’s Tees

We found out very early (13 weeks of pregnancy) that our middle son, Reeve, would be born with Down syndrome. Neither my husband nor I had had any experiences with someone who had Down syndrome, and we did not know what kind of life we could expect for our child.

The medical news was absolutely daunting. The laundry list of potential and expected problems stemming from having an extra 21st chromosome was overwhelming. I grieved for this innocent child whom I wanted so badly to protect.

I remember coming home from the hospital and immediately Googling everything that I could about Down syndrome. Beyond the medical information and the extra chromosome – I wanted to know what his life experience would be.  

One of the search engine results showed a video from PALS Programs called the “Congratulations Project.” In this short 6-minute video, campers from Camp PALS (young adults who have Down syndrome) read letters to expectant parents about their lives. Their words had a profound impact on me, and this video spoke to me when I needed to hear these words the most.  

One of my greatest fears for my baby was that he would have a life of suffering. I feared that his life would not be one of happiness, but rather of pain. In this video, I repeatedly heard from the PALS campers in their own words that they loved their lives, that they were happy, and that they were so proud of who they were. They absolutely meant every word - I could see it.

One of the campers, Victor, was so animated, charming, and sincere as he read his letter. His words hit me deeply. He said, “I love my life because my mom made me feel special. You should nurture your baby to feel special and be exactly who they want to be.” It was as if he gave me a hug through the screen and reassured me that everything would be okay. His words empowered me so much, and I realized at that moment that my job was not to worry about this baby, but rather to advocate for him, to root for him in every way possible, and to help him grow into whatever it was he wanted to become.

Many times throughout the rest of my pregnancy, I would turn back to Victor’s words for strength, and they brought me so much comfort.  

In that short PALS video, another aspect that touched me deeply was the sincere friendships between the camp counselors and the campers. One of my fears for the baby was that others would pity him, be mean to him, or that he would not be included. It was so clear that the relationships were genuine. I could see the sincere respect and shared joy between the campers and their partners. It was not pity, but pride. Victor’s words gave me so much hope for my baby, and PALS Programs gave me much hope for the society in which I would raise him.

Reeve was born in May of 2014. Since he has come into our lives, our hearts have known no greater joy than being his parents.  

Shortly after his birth, I used my background in Strategic Marketing to launch Reeve’s Tees, a company whose mission was to “rebrand Down syndrome.” I realized that if people do not know much about Down syndrome, they will anchor to the first pieces of information that they received about the condition. For many expectant parents, this is the medical information – which is often negative and scary.

I wanted to create messages about Down syndrome that captured the fun, the love, the pride, and the numerous positive emotions that we, the families and friends of those who have Down syndrome, feel.

We use humor and love to create positive messages on t-shirts that break the ice. Our “I ❤ homies with extra chromies®” t-shirts are our best-selling items. We hope that the light-heartedness about Down syndrome will help people get past the visible differences an extra chromosome and get to know the unique people who have 46 other chromosomes worth knowing!

All of our t-shirts come packaged with love and care by adults who have Down syndrome or special education students whom we work with through vocational training programs. Our packagers take so much pride in their work, and the beautiful packaging job that they do is actually a way of spreading awareness. People get their packages and see all of the detail and steps involved, and they are so impressed by it. The work that our team does showcases the skill, competence, and ability of those who have intellectual disabilities.

We are so proud to partner with PALS Programs in a joint awareness effort! Our special edition “Friends count more than chromosomes” tees are a perfect blend of both of our missions, and purchases will help support our ability to provide meaningful work for our packagers, while simultaneously raising awareness and funds for PALS Programs. You can order your shirts for a limited time only on this link

I will always be so personally appreciative of what PALS Programs does. Not only do the camps provide a deeply meaningful experience for the campers and the staff - the messages and friendships formed during these camps are a beacon of light in spreading awareness for our community. 

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Olivia

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Sally

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John

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Students in the Northmont H.S. Vocation Training Program

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Walter

Adventure Recap: DC

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Dear PALS Families and Friends,

Our names are Matt and Samantha, and this is both of our first years being involved with PALS Programs. Matt attended Camp PALS New York this summer as a counselor while Samantha attended Camp PALS Maine and Georgetown on the Medical team. For both of us, this was our first time ever going to an adventure and we are blessed that we got the opportunity to lead it. 

We had an amazingly fun time in DC and the weekend went by way too fast!

We began our adventure with a quick bus ride into DC for the Washington Wizards NBA game. We toured the stadium, bought souvenirs, and watched the Wizards get their first win of the season against the Atlanta Hawks! The event coordinator of the Wizards actually came up to our group and said we must have brought some good luck with us! After the game, we went back to our lodging at the National 4-H Conference Center to catch some sleep before our big day in DC.

On Saturday, we woke up bright and early to a Karaoke/Dance Party! We were able to enjoy a morning filled with new friendships, dancing, our favorite karaoke songs, and lots of good laughs. After our morning party, we hit the road to DC to go to the National Air and Space Museum. At the museum, we received a private tour by an amazing guy by the name of Scott. We soaked up a ton of knowledge and had a great time! After our tour, we watched an IMAX viewing of a Voyage of Time, showing the history of the world starting from the creation of Earth. We followed the tour up with an exquisite dinner at Logan Tavern. Once our bellies were full, we had a private trolley pick us up for a Monuments by Moonlight tour around DC! The tour started at the Lincoln Memorial and ended at the White House; we had a great tour guide who taught us about American history, DC secrets, and the significance of many important DC buildings.

On Sunday, we set out for Bowlmor Bethesda and had a fun and relaxing time bowling and bonding before having to say our final “see-ya-laters”!

On our incredible weekend, we were able to build new friendships and enhance old ones while having a great time laughing, singing, dancing, chanting, and running around DC. Thank you to all of the campers and counselors who made this weekend so memorable and enjoyable! A special shout-out to Stephen for the outstanding amount of support with this weekend. This weekend couldn’t have happened without all of you. We are so grateful to have gotten to know you all, and we cannot wait to meet again soon!

PALS Love,

Samantha and Matt

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Adventure Recap: Hershey Park

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Dear PALS Families and Friends,

As the Adventure Leaders who facilitated our trip to Hershey Park, we would like to introduce ourselves: our names are Hayley Cavanaugh and Amelia Siwa. Hayley has been a counselor at Camp PALS Philly for two years, and has attended multiple PALS Adventures, including Indianapolis, New Years Eve, Wisconsin Dells, and Chesapeake Bay. This is Amelia’s second summer returning as a counselor at Camp PALS Poconos. She has attended the Great Wolf Lodge Adventure for the past two years, as well as other PALS events such as the spring Picnic last May. While we have both had a lot of experience in the PALS family, this was our first time organizing and leading our own PALS Adventure!

We started off the weekend on a rainy Friday afternoon, but we didn’t let a little water ruin our fun! We moved into our campground cabins, introduced our PALS family for the weekend, and moved on to enjoy some fresh Chipotle Catering in a nearby pavilion. Shortly after that, we met in our central cabin to enjoy a classic PALS tradition: Karaoke Night! Campers sang (and danced) to a variety of their favorite songs, showing off their talent and music taste to the group, ending in a crazy dance party!

The next morning, we headed out bright and early to Hershey Park for a day of fun in the sun (and wind)! Everyone enjoyed a full morning and afternoon together smelling the funnel cakes, splashing down the Log Flume, spinning on the Carousel, and flying over the hills of roller coasters! After our exhausting day, we hung out at the campgrounds, eating a delicious dinner provided by Fuddruckers and reminiscing on our favorite parts of the day. We finished Saturday out with a toasty campfire, making s'mores.

On Sunday, we set out for Hershey’s Chocolate World, where we spent the morning solving chocolate mysteries, learning how Hershey’s Chocolate is made, becoming certified ‘Palateers’, and finally making our own chocolate bars!

After an incredible (but short) weekend, we found ourselves having to say goodbye to each other. As Adventure Leaders, we were honored to end the Spring PALS Adventure season with a bang!

We would like to thank our wonderful team of campers and counselors, several of which were experiencing PALS for the first time. You all made the weekend feel welcoming, and like a true PALS experience! We want to wish everyone a happy summer, and hopefully we will cross paths in the future!

We took a lot of video footage throughout the weekend, and compiled a short video to help you relive our experience. It is the first-ever PALS Adventures video!

PALS Love,

Hayley and Amelia

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Adventure Recap: Chesapeake Bay

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Dear PALS Families and Friends,

My name is Caitlin Caffrey and this is my third year being part of the
wonderful PALS family. I have attended Camp PALS Georgetown, Princeton
and will be attending Camp PALS Cleveland this summer. This was my
first time not only organizing an adventure, but actually attending an
adventure. I had a fantastic time at the Chesapeake Bay Adventure and
wish the weekend never had to end!

We began our adventure with a wonderful bus drive over the Bay Bridge
while jamming out to Justin Bieber. When we arrived at the beautiful Captains Quarters property, Papa John’s pizza was calling our names!  We sat down for dinner and had introductions, making and meeting new friends. After eating and exploring the house, we headed outside to a enjoy a roaring fire, play charades and make s’mores.

On Saturday morning, we woke up and prepared for the arrival of the
Escape the Room Puzzle Designers. While groups took turns taking on the challenge of “escaping the room”, other people used their time to play basketball, go kayaking, relax in the hot tub, or play a game of corn hole. After the activity-filled morning, everyone was hungry and sat down to have some delicious sandwiches. Once we were re-energized, it was time for our puppy social. The Bay Water Animal Rescue brought two adorable puppies named Moose (a.k.a Loud Mouth Moose) and Lady Bug. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing choice indoor and outdoor activities including air hockey and playing pool.

The evening came around and we had several people in the kitchen working together to prepare a spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread meal. Following the meal came delicious ice cream sundaes! We ended the night with karaoke and a crazy dance party! Our talented campers were able to showcase skills of
singing, lip syncing, and dancing. We woke up early the next day to pack up, clean the house and make fish crafts.

We had a very busy, but relaxing weekend together growing old friendships and building new ones. Thank you to all of the campers and counselors who came together to make the weekend so memorable. We are all excited for camp this summer and look forward to reuniting again! All of the campers and counselors want to make a shout out to Emesha and Stephen for helping support this
adventure as well as enjoying all of the fun-filled activities with us!

PALS Love,

Caitlin

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Camper Spotlight: Mac and Kit Stephenson

Name: Mac Stephenson/Kit Stephenson

Age: 17/14

Number of years at PALS: 1

What camps have you attended:  Columbus–THE Ohio State University

What is your favorite PALS memory:  

Mac:  Nathan!!

Kit:  The dance and getting dressed up and singing karaoke with Mac.

What is something unique about you, that most people don’t know:    

Mac:  I love scary/creepy tv shows and movies.                                              

Kit:   My favorite class is choir.                                

What is your biggest accomplishment:  

Mac: When I received my 4-year award for being on the golf team all during high school.        

Kit:    Doing competition cheer at Champion Cheer.                                             

If you could have any job, what would it be:  

Mac:  Be a chef at Sloopy’s and make pizzas.

Kit:  Work somewhere that I can sing and dance or work “stuff” like office equipment, doctor equipment…

Anything else you would like to share with the PALS community:  

Mac and Kit:  We LOVED Camp PALS and can’t wait to do it again.

Camper Spotlight: Ryan Herrington

My name is Ryan Herrington and I am 25 years old.  I started camp when I was 17 years old at Cabrini College.  I have gone to Cabrini, Princeton, Georgetown, and San Francisco.  I have also done PALS Adventures in Annapolis, Rider College and Young Chef’s. I love Camp PALS because they make me feel special.  I LOVE arrival when everybody cheers for me.  I also love meeting new friends.  My favorite memory at PALS was winning the Olympics with Soeren and the Blue Barracudas.

I am good looking, smart, caring and thoughtful.  I am the captain of the Brick Stars Ice Hockey team.  I love my team.

I love my job at the Arbors.  I take the train to work all by myself.  I run the dishwasher, unload dishes, do food prep and make desserts.  I love my co-workers.

My dream job would be to be the announcer for the Yankees or the Flyers.  I also want to be a professional country singer.

I am learning to be an advocate.  I want people to use the word respect instead of the ‘R’ word.

Camp PALS is the best.  I always make new friends and my friends always make me feel special.  I have awesome brothers that go to camp too.  I love to beat them in the Olympics.

Camper Spotlight: Mary Borman

Name: Mary Borman

Age: 17

Number of years at PALS: 1

What camps have you attended: Chicago

What is your favorite PALS memory: When I was able to sail on the lake and steer the boat.

What is something unique about you, that most people don’t know: I have 2 sisters and 2 brothers and I am an actress. And I flew to Chicago by myself.

What is your biggest accomplishment: Special Olympics gold medal for backstroke and being in a play!

If you could have any job, what would it be: Actress and model

Anything else you would like to share with the PALS community: I love PALS so much!  I can’t wait until next year!

Camper Spotlight: Jeremy Diskint

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In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, we’re highlighting some of our campers. This week, get to know Princeton camper, Jeremy! 

Name: Jeremy Diskint

Age: 21

Number of years at PALS: 2

What camps have you attended: Princeton

What is your favorite PALS memory: I loved the karaoke night!

What is something unique about you, that most people don’t know:  I’m very good at expressing myself.  I have an excellent memory and can remember lyrics to songs, movie titles, actors in movies, and lots more!!!

What is your biggest accomplishment: I’m working on overcoming my shyness.

If you could have any job, what would it be:  I would like to be an author and publish stories that I write.

Anything else you’d like to share:  I have supportive brothers that back me up.  My brothers help me be independent.  I’m living in an apartment now with a roommate!  I love my family!

The Congratulations Project: Update

Today, PALS Executive Director Jenni Newbury Ross shares an update on The Congratulations Project:

“Exactly one year ago, Camp PALS camper John Kellis and I walked into NBC studios for the filming of The Meredith Vieira Show. Together we shared about PALS and our work with the Congratulations Project. As many of you know, the Congratulations Project invites our campers to write letters to new parents of babies with Down syndrome. During this powerful segment, Meredith surprised John with a visit from Jonas and his mom, a family that had received John’s letter.  Additionally, PALS was surprised with a generous gift from Babies R Us - supplies for gift baskets to accompany the letters that we sent to these new families.

We are so grateful for this opportunity to share the Congratulations Project with the world. Since the show’s filming we have distributed almost 250 letters to new families! 

Now that the Babies R Us supplies have been utilized, we are looking for a new sponsor to help us share the powerful words of our campers with the newest members of the Down syndrome community. 

From the very start of this initiative our vision was to welcome and celebrate with parents who may feel anxious, overwhelmed, or uncertain of their future. Over the past few years, it has been our honor to be told that we’re doing just that. 

“Your package and letter was the first one we received after hearing our son’s diagnosis and it gave us such hope.”

“I am putting this in her baby book so when she gets older she can read it and see the picture of you.”

“It gave me so much hope and strength when I was still trying to figure out what DS would mean for our son…Thank you for giving me that first glimpse into what a great life he will have.”

“I feel like we’ve been on an Island this whole time and we just received a message in a bottle.”

We will be sharing more photos and stories around The Congratulations Project as we continue to try and spread our reach. If you have any ideas about a potential sponsor or partner for this project please let us know by emailing congratulations@palsprograms.org. “

–Jenni Newbury Ross, Executive Director, PALS Programs

Camp PALS 2015: Summer’s End

Our 2015 camp season has come to an end and what a wild ride it was! This year we hosted over 500 campers and counselors at eight beautiful college campuses. From Columbus to Chicago, we watched with amazement as our our wonderful community grew and the joy of PALS was spread across the country. We are so thankful for every member of our big PALS family!

In the coming weeks, we will be featuring reflections from campers and counselors at each camp. Make sure to follow us here on the blog, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Although the camp season is over, there are PALS opportunities year-round, and you definitely don’t want to miss out!

PALS in space! No, really.

Captain’s Log, Stardate 68758.4. PALS bracelets have returned from their journey to space on the flight test for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle…

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Mike Hawes (far right) presents PALS Staff with the 50 bracelets and official NASA documentation authenticating their flight on Orion

We are beyond thrilled to reveal that 50 PALS bracelets have returned from their epic journey to space. Yes, we said space. Reaching an altitude of 3,500 miles above earth and traveling at a speed of 15,000 miles per hour, it is safe to say that these bracelets boldly went where none of us have gone before. 

But HOW, you ask? Last Fall, Camp PALS Chicago Director Conor Hawes approached the PALS staff with an offer of a lifetime.  Conor’s awesome dad, Mike Hawes was connected to the flight test for Orion- a capsule that will eventually send humans to Mars. The theme of the flight test was inspiration, and Conor and his Dad thought PALS was a perfect fit.  We selected 50 PALS bracelets (handmade by our Office Manager, Robyn Newbury) to make the trip. Other notable items in the capsules included original works from Maya Angelou, a prehistoric fossil from a T-rex, and Cookie Monster’s cookie. 

We are SO thankful, honored, and amazed to have been given this opportunity. We still haven’t quite wrapped our heads around the awesomeness of it all. Our PALS community is the best and we are grateful for all of you.  Whether it is talking about PALS to a friend over dinner, or sending PALS bracelets into space, each and every effort helps our community grow and brings us closer to a world of acceptance and welcome.

Read more about the items included in the capsules here. Or watch the launch here

Director Series: Camp PALS Princeton

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Introducing, our Princeton Directors- Steven, Whitney, and David. 

Steven: Hi everyone! I’m Steven, a 2nd year director with Camp PALS Princeton. I currently live in Philadelphia, but I’m constantly traveling for my work as a consultant. I’m a 2013 Princeton grad and a lifelong PALS enthusiast, so I cannot wait until this summer for, once again, the perfect combination of both. I’m most looking forward to a week completely dedicated to fun, new friendships and growth…and, of course, a bit of karaoke. Whitney, David and I are pumped to meet and reconnect with you all. See you soon!

Whitney: Hey PALS peeps! My name is Whitney Flora and this will be my 7th summer with PALS. This will be my 3rd summer as a director at Camp PALS Princeton and I cannot put into words how excited I am. PALS has given me so much in the last 7 years. The people I have met here have taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to, that singing karaoke will fix any problem, and to approach every situation with compassion and kindness. My life has been shaped by the influence of this incredible organization and the inspiring people I’ve met along the way. I can’t wait to see what Princeton holds for us this summer. I can already tell it’s going to be the best year yet!

David: “Hey everybody! I’m David Sabia and this summer will mark six years since my brother Steve, a 8th-year camper, introduced me into the PALS family! I’m ecstatic that I have the opportunity to spend my second year as a director with my amazing co-directors at PALS Princeton. I currently live in Olney, Maryland, where I work as a 4th grade teacher in the Montgomery County Public School system. The thing I’m most excited about this summer is continuing to step outside my comfort zone…whether that is meeting a new friend, judging the most hotly contested edition of Top Chef yet, or adding that one extra topping at Fruity Yogurt. Can’t wait to meet all the counselors and campers for what will surely be one of the best weeks of the year!”

PALS Siblings: Laura and Kevin

Our Sibling series continues with a post from counselor Laura Grow:

“My brother Kevin was born when I was 5, so he has played an integral part in shaping the person who I have become. However, I have come to realize that not everyone has grown up with the opportunity to experience the type of journey that Kevin has brought our family on for the past 19 years. Down syndrome awareness allows those without these experiences to learn that people with Down syndrome are not different from everyone else. They have dreams, desires, and needs. They want to have meaningful friendships and to accomplish goals. They want acceptance just like everyone else.

In the past year, Kevin has accomplished 2 of his biggest goals - playing for the Harlem Globetrotters and graduating from high school. Having the community support him and rally around his successes made these moments even more special for Kevin. Down syndrome awareness is important because it helps to celebrate the unique gifts that the Down syndrome community has to offer everyone.”