James Madison University

Centers Team Up for Inclusive Summer Camp

By: Dina Manco
Posted: September 25, 2014

During the week of July 7th-10th, children from ages 3 to 16 gathered in JMU’s Godwin Building for an inclusive youth camp experience. The Morrison-Bruce Center and Empowerment3 started this camp experience for children of all ages and all abilities.

The main goal of the camp was to encourage inclusivity between participants with and without disabilities, both in camp and out in the community, as Morrison-Bruce Center’s Executive Director Dr. Elizabeth Edwards addresses. In the words of Empowerment3’s Executive Director Dr. Thomas Moran and Dr. Edwards, the camp aimed to eliminate viewing those with developmental disabilities as different, but rather embrace them through maximizing their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. “[Some students with disabilities] have tried traditional camps in the past but [the camps] struggled to meet their needs. We expose them to new activities – force them outside their comfort zone. To be successful, it is important to make them lifelong learners,” Moran says.

The camp – dubbed Overcoming Barriers/Morrison-Bruce Center Summer Camp – held activities from 10am to 2pm each day. Moran states the camp instructors assisted participants in various physical activities, such as archery – one of the campers’ favorites. Counselors were comprised of core teams from each respective center, as well as student volunteers looking to complete practicum or internship requirements. Counselors assisted with other team and individual sports, such as soccer, aquatics, tennis, baseball, and track and field. Children engaged in about five or six activities per day.

Edwards states that she hopes all their participants walked away with confidence as well as a positive experience of the camp and of themselves. In particular, she loved seeing the children participate in aquatics, “Some children feel a barrier to getting in the water - seeing them overcome that [is a favorite memory]. They had the [individualized] attention to be successful.” Moran adds, “One kid joined the ongoing program; following camp his skill level went through the roof. His community instructor was impressed he grew so much in one week’s time.”

Kinesiology major Chris Scroggins, who volunteered this summer comments, “I learned that I’m the one who had the disability at the camp. Each participant pushed themselves to the limit everyday and left it all at the camp; they legitimately left so exhausted but showed up the next morning ready to go again. Fortunately for me, these amazing youth were able to show me what giving 100% really looks like.”

The Morrison-Bruce Center and the Empowerment3 - Center for Physical Activity and Wellness for Underserved Youth Overcoming Barriers hold other activities, programs, and opportunities for involvement throughout the year with flexible commitment. The centers plan to hold the camp again in 2015 and hope to increase involvement. Dr. Edwards says, “Activities are always up for change; there’s a lot of repeat participants, so we want to keep it fresh and broaden recruitment to get opportunity to as many students as possible.”