“David” an 8 year old boy with classic Autism, came to us after being removed from his home by DCF. He was non-verbal, using grunting sounds and pointing or acting out to communicate his thoughts and feelings. He had an intense fear of going outside and making transitions to new places was overwhelming for him. His academic skills were extremely low and he was not getting any real educational services due to the upheaval in his life. HCRS staff immediately began to identify the services he would need to progress and grow. A shared living provider was found who has given him a wonderful family environment to live and grow in. David now goes to school for the whole day. He is using his words more than ever and instead of pulling on someone or grunting or pointing, he is prompted to use requests like “ Can I use the computer, please,” without being told.
Summer Therapeutic Program
HCRS provides three and six-week summer therapeutic camps for youth who are receiving regular clinical services through our Children, Youth, and Families program. The camps are designed for youth with a significant emotional disturbance who would not thrive in a traditional summer camp program. We combine outdoor recreational activities with behavioral and therapeutic programming to teach and reinforce positive social skills and behaviors.
HCRS summer camp opens doors, builds skills for high-needs kids, and we have a lot of fun doing it!
Our program is specifically structured for kids who struggle within their school environment, as well as within their family and extended communities. We create a therapeutic environment for them, masked as a summer camp. Our staff are focused on helping them build positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults by supporting them with the development of important social skills that they so desperately need. In essence, we create a community for them that teaches them how to be successful while having fun.
With a one-to-one adult to camper ratio and rigorously trained staff, HCRS’ no-fee camp is tailor-made for kids who wouldn’t make it in settings with fewer supports. Many of these kids increase the stress level with their families, and they often come from families who are already stressed and don’t have a lot of resources.
This program allows these kids to find opportunities to bond while utilizing the skills that they are learning as well. Whether they are negotiating a game of capture the flag, swimming at a local pool or nearby lake, canoeing for the first time, or tye-dying t-shirts, they do it all together. While these activities may look like play, the reality is that campers are hard at work throughout the day learning to manage their behaviors, problem solve, and work together—critical skills that don’t go unnoticed when they return to their homes and schools.
The bonds that they develop with their peers and with the adult staff are clear by the end of their summer experience and “it is an absolute joy for the staff to watch the significant progress that they make throughout the summer,” says Michelle Emery, the Therapeutic Activities Coordinator in our Brattleboro location.
Keeping the camp small enough to build these relationships is essential, and we recognize that the program’s success stems in large part on its ability to remain flexible and responsive to each camper’s needs. That responsiveness extends to the camp’s programming, much of which is based on the particular interests and skills of each year’s campers and staff. Each year, the staff brainstorm to determine the therapeutic value of each activity and determine how to help campers extract meaning from the skills they’re learning. At times, however, this may turn out very differently than what we expect.
Michelle Emery recalls the “one year that it poured on the last day of camp. We had all 40 kids and 40 staff under a sheltered barn at the Guilford Fairgrounds. Everyone was disappointed that the days’ activities were unexpectedly cancelled. Finally a staff member turned on some music and we all started to dance. Each child wanted to show off their dancing skills, so we all made a huge circle and kids began to go into the middle and dance for everyone to see. Kids who would typically withdraw from being the center of attention came out of their shell with encouragement from the staff and most importantly, with encouragement from the new friends they have made. Before we knew it the rain had stopped and no one wanted to go out so we just kept going!” “This unexpectedly turned into a new camp tradition” says Emery. “Now each year we start planning on day one for a variety show that we put on for each other on the last day of camp that displays our many goofy talents!” “My favorite is definitely the trash bag fashion show!” says Emery.
What we learned is that sometimes you really have to adjust your thinking. How do I accept the idea of taking a chance, of dealing with disappointment, frustration, or sadness? Unexpectedly, this became an activity about taking risks and when there is disappointment and we are faced with the unexpected, what do we do? We answer these questions together.
These Summer Therapeutic Programs are provided in each of our three locations. In order to be considered for this program, youth need to live in Windham or Windsor counties of Vermont and be receiving regular clinical services from HCRS.
For more information, please contact the Summer Program Coordinator in your area:
Brattleboro area (802) 254-6028
Springfield area (802) 886-4500
Hartford area (802) 295-3031