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The Power of Inclusive Summer Camps


Building a strong network of inclusive summer camps aligns with SARRC’s mission and commitment to inclusive practices.  For five years and growing, a small, but robust SARRC team has been collaborating with camps in Arizona to provide inclusive summer camp opportunities for youth.

“An inclusive environment benefits all campers,” says Megan Mann, clinical consultant at SARRC. “In addition to having fun engaging in various camp activities, campers develop friendships, and may develop acceptance and compassion for each other. The positive outcomes affect everyone involved; campers, parents, staff and the community.”

As a parent of a child with autism, Anita Nilson says having the opportunity to enroll her 9-year-old son Tanner in summer camp has been an especially rewarding experience.

“Tanner acclimated pretty quickly and came home talking about the new friends he made,” says Nilson. “The struggle he has in social situations is hard to watch, especially as a mom, but knowing that he gets to be around typical peers doing typical summer activities eases my mind. Inclusion is a win-win for everyone!”

For three years, Tanner has been attending Camp Simcha at Congregation Beth Israel of Scottsdale and Nilson loves that Tanner can enjoy new experiences with other kids.

For Nilson, keeping Tanner engaged at home during the summer is just not the same as him interacting with kids his own age, which is why she’s grateful for camp options in the community that cultivate a warm and welcoming environment for all.

“It's a great opportunity for typical peers to discover awareness and begin to develop acceptance,” says Nilson.

For 'camp parent' Steve Gotschall, camp has been a valuable growth experience for his 12-year-old daughter, Ellie. As a family they never dreamed of being able to send Ellie away for an overnight camp, but she has particiapted in Camp Stein's two-week camp for the last two years.

"Camp Stein has taught Ellie to be more independent by assisting in packing her items for camp, then having to pick the items she needed during the two weeks away, making her bed, dressing herself and organizing her space," says Steve. "It has also been so crucial in developing her social skills. After camp, Ellie has become much more confident and her social anxiety has decreased exponentially."

Phoenix Theatre, another community partner, offers an eight-week camp experience for school-age children and teenagers in a creative environment.

“Theatre is about telling stories, especially about people who have lived lives different from our own,” says Hanna Spence-Schehr, Phoenix Theatre community engagement manager and summer camp director. “To be able to tell stories such as these requires compassion, empathy and a true understanding of what makes all human beings different.”

Camp collaborations begin well before the summer months, camp directors and SARRC consultant, Mann, meet to discuss the camps’ missions and include plans for moving the camps’ commitment to inclusion forward. Training and consultation is provided at every level from camp director to camp counselors benefiting campers, parents, families and the community.

For Mann, “Seeing all campers model thoughtful and kind behavior with each other – where everyone is having a fun summer and is learning and growing in the same environment, gives me confidence that we are successfully shaping a more inclusive community for everyone.” 

Learn more about SARRC's summer camp opportunities. For summer camps interested in training opportunities, visit our Education, Training and Consultation page.

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