A sense of self obtained through experiences

New activities create confidence in special needs kids

Mallane Dressel | Boulder Weekly

Of course a kids camp should be fun, but the special needs programs provided by Adam’s Camp, Colorado Lions Camp and Colorado Center for the Blind go one step further by expanding campers’ perceptions of what is possible. The confidence obtained through new camp activities — from rock climbing to archery — seeps into their daily lives, camp staff members say, and can provide the kids with a whole new outlook.

The Colorado Center for the Blind exposes elementary-age kids to swimming, horseback riding and hiking, while older kids also rock climb, whitewater raft, canoe and learn self-defense. Adam’s Adventure Camp, which caters to kids with mild to moderate developmental disabilities, allows their campers to let loose by participating in zip lining. The Colorado Lions Camp, which welcomes both blind and developmentally disabled kids, offers mountain biking and fishing on their own 40 acres of Pike National Forest.

The activities provided by these camps would pique the interest of any kid, but sometimes the kids attending these camps first need to break down some social and mental barriers before they feel comfortable enough to try new activities. At Adam’s Adventure Camp, campers share family-style cabins with their peers, counselors and volunteers.

“They get to meet all kinds of new friends, some with similar disabilities, and some without, and they get to do a lot of peer modeling,” says Jenny Chase, adventure camp director for Adam’s Camp. “We have volunteers of their age with the campers, so they get to learn a lot from them.”

Dan Berke, public relations and college prep coordinator for Colorado Center for the Blind, says the camp works on breaking down preconceived limitations that are established from daily social settings to open up the kids’ minds to opportunities.

“In a lot of situations when blind kids are in school, they’re given alternative programs and activities,” he says.

“It sends a message to them that blind people are not as capable of a risk. Our challenge is to disrupt that thinking and get them to think, ‘I can do this, I have the ability to accomplish this.’” When campers do new activities at these camps — activities they may never have thought possible — the accomplishment creates a confidence that helps them with their daily struggles, says Berke.

Dan Smith, executive director of Colorado Lions Camp, says you can really see a difference when kids return for a second year of camp — they require less persuasion to do activities and even have ambition to try new activities.

“I hear from parents about what they are more willing to do when they get back home,” he says. “The parents have nothing but praise for how much they have learned and grown since they started coming to the camp.”

Since the camps create an encouraging atmosphere, the kids are more willing to try activities that will provide them with the self-confidence and self-esteem that will allow them to be successful in achieving personal growth.