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Summer Camp for My Son With Down Syndrome

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My son came home from camp today.

While this is something a lot of families experience every year, our story is different.

My son has Down syndrome. With my son, it’s not easy to just pick any camp and sign him up. Many camps won’t take him.

It’s that simple — they won’t take him.

But Camp Pals is different. They get it. They love our kids!

Camp Pals was created by a sister so her brother with down syndrome could attend camp. She would go away to camp every summer and her brother had to stay home. She decided that wasn’t fair. She wanted to change it. So, amazingly, she did.

She first created a small camp in Philadelphia where there was a nursing staff, one-to-one peer counselors and a whole bunch of fun. Then she went on to expand that idea. Camp Pals now has 12 locations around the United States serving over 1000 campers each summer.

These campers stay at college campuses in dorms for a week, go on excursions, have a ton of fun, and of course there’s dancing! They have one-to-one peer counselors, and these peer counselors (ages 15-20) agree to interviews, training and spending one week of their summer vacation at camp. They bond with their camper, they sleep over with this camper, they pledge to spontaneous dancing, commit to having a positive attitude, they agree to being a role model and mentor and to have a blast doing it! And dance!

As we attended the closing ceremony of the camp, we saw the tears being shed by campers and counselors alike. Parents were crying, and I cried as well.

The premise for this camp is amazing.

I am grateful for a week where my child was able to go and be a “typical” camper.

I am grateful for the break I received as a parent.

I am humbled by the idea that you see my child to be as wonderful as I do.

I am inspired to push for more inclusion so other youth can see my son, and see how brave he is, how talented he is, and how joyful he can be.

I am thankful from the very depth of my heart.

Originally published: August 11, 2019
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