For adults, reminiscing of a week at summer camp can stir up some very fond memories. Carefree summers paddling the canoe and jumping into a cold lake. There were the games of capture the flag, meeting new friends and perhaps a first crush. Camp is a great time for kids to develop, and one particular camp in Western Washington is making sure every kid has a chance at these lifetime-changing experiences.
Since 1974, Camp Stand by Me has been dedicated to providing a genuine summer camp experience to both kids and adults with disabilities. Located in Vaughn, the camp is operated by Easterseals Washington, part of a national organization that offers help and hope to millions of children and adults who are on the autism scale or have other special needs and disabilities.
The Washington Chapter was founded in 1947 and has been providing services to thousands of families across the state. For adults with disabilities, Easterseals provides workforce development, job training and networking with employers.
Young children can take part in the Make the First Five Count program which prepares them with the right support in order to be school ready. The group also offers child-development centers as well as specialized therapy for children with autism.
One of the most impactful programs remains the experiences offered at Camp Stand by Me. The camp provides an inclusive and barrier-free environment where kids and adults with disabilities get to experience the same activities as other summer campers. These include campfires, boating and fishing, swimming, arts and crafts, outdoor education, sports and recreation, and archery, all in a safe and supportive environment.
“Campers write their own skits, songs, and create dance numbers for talent shows and have the opportunity to have a captive audience appreciate their hard work,” said Camp Director Angela Cox.
“And when the crowd goes wild, you can see how much it means to have their creativity and talent appreciated.”
During the weeklong sessions, campers snack on s’mores, learn to swim and also get to build lifelong friendships with their fellow campers.
“The friendships many of these campers make at camp result in them staying in touch throughout the year,” she said. “We have even had some campers get married!”
Camp Stand by Me is located on 17 acres with both water and trail access. Cabins are modern, and there is an indoor swimming pool, dining hall, craft building and recreation lodge to go alongside the vast amount of open space to explore.
There are six-day and eight-day sessions offered June through August for different age groups. Children’s camps are for ages 7 to 21; teen/young adults are ages 15 to 35; and adult camps are for those 22 and older. The counselor-to-camper ratio is very low, with a maximum ratio of three campers to one counselor. One-to-one ratios are also available to campers who need constant supervision, have specific medical needs or need additional care away from a group setting.
Camp is run by a wide range of people serving as counselors, activity instructors, nurses and lifeguards. Many are students pursuing a degree in special education, occupational therapy or therapeutic recreation, and some come from as far away as Italy and Tanzania.
“All staff members receive a week of comprehensive orientation and training prior to our first session,” said Angela.
In addition to the summer camp offered to those with disabilities, Easterseals recognizes that caring for these individuals often falls squarely on family and caregivers. Constant care can be both physically and emotionally draining, so a Weekend Respite Camp is also available.
“Being able to support parents and caregivers is so impactful. Parents often point out that it isn't just being able to have respite that makes these sessions so important but … knowing that your child or sibling is taken care of and having an amazing time, too,” said Angela.
According to the 2015 State of the States in Developmental Disabilities Report, there are nearly 80,000 Washington households caring for a family member with a developmental disability, but only 15 percent of those families receive support and services through the Division of Developmental Disabilities.
During the school year, families can come up for the weekend and staff will help with respite care during the stay so the family members can have some of the load temporarily lifted from their shoulders. This is also an easy way for families to experience Camp Stand by Me before committing to a full week in the summer.
The camp is flooded with positive feedback from caretakers who are forever grateful for what Camp Stand by Me provides them.
“Camp is really the only break we get all year, and I don’t know what we’d do without it. We know our daughter is safe and having fun at camp and, when she comes back, we feel so rested and rejuvenated. It’s priceless.” - Camp Stand by Me Family
“Thank you for our first break ever. My husband and I were able to reconnect for the first time in years. I think you saved our marriage.” - Camp Stand by Me Family
Registration for 2019 is currently open, and you’ll find pricing information and camp dates under the ‘Our Programs’ tab on Easterseals.com/Washington.