Stillwood Camp, Lindell Beach, B.C., has designed a unique new program that “integrates children with autism into camp” and the whole camp “into the world of autism.”
Beyond Boundaries “offers children with autism the experience to be a typical kid at camp,” says program coordinator Laura Peters.
This summer, twenty-four 6−15-year-old young people on the autism spectrum participated in the first Beyond Boundaries program − an average of four to eight campers every week.
Having grown up as a Stillwood (then Columbia Bible Camp) camper, Peters says in her studies at University of Victoria, “I began dreaming about developing a program at camp integrating children with disabilities and asking God to help me create a practicum that allowed me to live out my dream.”
The first thing Peters did was change the label: rather than “autistic,” staff referred to Beyond Boundaries participants as their “awesome” campers.
“I want to help society change the way people with any kind of disabilities are treated,” says Peters. “If children with disabilities are fully integrated at a very young age…by the time these kids are young adults and entering job fields or post-secondary school, society will have a new grasp and acceptance toward everyone. This is a big dream, but I have faith that it will happen.”
Peters ran workshops for the staff and was on-call 24/7 to provide one-on-one support. Fraser Valley Autism Society provided resources, workshops, and personal assistance, and informed families in their program about Beyond Boundaries. Parents received a summary of their child’s week including favourite memories from camp staff.
Peters’ most memorable experience was with a low-functioning camper whose cabinmates didn’t know how to react to him. She developed a kid-friendly mini-workshop on autism and answered their questions. “The campers soaked up every word and came up with suggestions on how to make camp the best week of the summer for their fellow awesome cabinmate,” she recalls. By the end of the week, the cabin group had all become friends, and that “awesome” camper had learned how to pray.
“The campers are continually surrounded by counsellors and staff that love God and want what is best for the camper,” says Peters. “Putting any child into this environment creates confidence and willingness to physically and mentally explore the possibilities of God’s love, adventures, and new activities.”