The College of Education and Human Development offers numerous opportunities and volunteer activities for pre-service teachers to explore related to their major. Camp LIFE, an inclusive camping opportunity for children with disabilities, is one opportunity where students can gain field experience in a unique setting, serving as a camp counselor or volunteer.
When volunteers arrive at camp, they probably aren’t aware that Camp LIFE started as an independent study assignment and dream of former student Sterling Leija ‘03. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the camp has served more than 600 children with disabilities throughout Texas.
Dr. Amy Sharp serves as the Associate Director of the Center on Disability and Development and organizes Camp LIFE as a part of her role. She said that for the past ten years she has seen students gain an incredible amount of comfort with disability by volunteering for Camp LIFE. Sharp added, “This community experience provides young professionals a new perspective and comfort level to take with them as they move through life.”
Camp LIFE provides an inclusive recreational environment for children with disabilities and their siblings in a barrier free camp setting. LIFE is an acronym for Leadership, Independence and Friends through Experiences, and identifies the foundation of the campers’ experiences.
In conjunction with the celebration of their 10th anniversary, the camp is celebrating two more milestones: hosting their first annual Family Day Camp and bringing Jessicah Holloway on board as the new camp director.
Family Day Camp offers a different type of camping experience. Parents, who are not quite ready to let their children attend camp alone, may participate in the camp experience together as a family. The day camp offers workshops and provides networking opportunities for campers and parents.
The first Family Day Camp also renewed a partnership with another on-campus student organization. The MBA Students Helping Our Community (SHOC) in the Mays Business School has been a primary camp sponsor for more than six years. This year, the organization took a more hands-on approach, logging in 150 volunteer hours during the camp, which attracted 51 campers. The 15 SHOC volunteers paired up with families and campers to offer support and encouragement to campers participating in activities such as horseback riding, fishing, canoeing and arts and crafts. Chad Riley, president of MBA SHOC added, “This was one way for us to sacrifice a day off to serve our community and be there for families with special needs children. Each of us learned what it means to hold to these values.”
Sharp said the day camp allowed families who may have had some hesitations about camping to experience first-hand the bonding, support and the fun. Many of the families are planning to enroll their kids in the Camp LIFE weekend camp this fall, without their parents. “That’s a big step for many families,” she said.
“Family Day Camp was a great extension to our program, because it welcomed new participants and continued to focus on what the campers can do and encouraged each camper along the way,” Sharp added. “Campers are allowed to experience any activity they choose to participate in and are provided full support to help them achieve their goals.”
After ten years of serving as director, Sterling Leija and other camp associates are happy to welcome Jessicah Holloway. Holloway worked with Leija at CAMP LIFE for more than four years and works full time at Camp For All in Burton, TX. Sterling and Holloway are close friends and both have enjoyed watching the camp thrive.
“As the new director, I would really like to continue establishing personal relationships with campers and their families, like Sterling did,” said Holloway. “For most children, attending camp can be a routine childhood experience, but with Camp LIFE it is a vital experience for children with disabilities to have accessible fun.”
The next day camp experience is scheduled for September 25-27, 2014. To register or learn more, visit Camp LIFE online at www.camplife.tamu.edu.
For more information contact Amy Sharp at 979.845.4612 or firstname.lastname@example.org.