Camp Teacher- Melissa Whitaker, Camp Teacher- Margaret Dougan, Tayler Johnson (14), & Keli Gooch (mom)
You know that feeling you get when you have been on vacation, or even just a long trip- when you are about 5 miles from your house & you know your home is just within reach? You’ve enjoyed your time away, but nothing seems quite like home.
That’s exactly how I feel when Summer arrives and it's time for Camp. I wish you could see the look of excitement on my daughter’s face.
Never mind the initiative she has taken to pick out her clothes and place them on her dresser (at 3AM, I might add). She is unable to verbally express many words, but her eyes always shine & open wide, as if to say “Mom! It’s Camp time again. Let’s go!”
For the past 6 years, every June my daughter Tayler (14) has had the opportunity to attend Camp Imaginarium, a 2-week camp for children & young adults with Down Syndrome. This camp offers her the opportunity to socialize, create art, and learn music. At the close of camp, she gets the opportunity to perform on stage with country music stars at the “County Music Lends Down A Hand” concert.
As we walk towards the building where her Camp is held each summer, I watch as her pace increases, and she smiles and laughs with excitement.
I feel her joy-THIS is home.
As the years have gone by, I haven’t said much, but here are 5 Ways My Daughter’s Camp Teachers Make Our Summer Awesome.
1. They never focus on the "Can'ts".
Everyday when I arrived to pick Tayler up from Camp, her teachers have never pointed out what she “didn’t” do or “couldn’t” do. I remember them saying statements to me such as, “She participated and danced in music today.”
Tayler has a limited verbal vocabulary & her version of “dancing” is sort of a rocking motion, but I notice and appreciate my daughter's camp teachers telling me what she DID do. And I especially love how even after a year, they both STILL notice minor improvements, like how she’s much more settled this year and how she makes an effort to join the group. It makes me proud.
2. They've reaffirmed my belief that certain people are gifted with unconditional love.
When we first started attending Camp, I was a single mom, African-American, and struggling with my own self-worth, as well as coping with the complexities of parenting a child with multiple disabilities. I honestly felt like we wouldn’t fit in. As the years have passed, it’s become my belief that some individuals truly don’t see color- they view the world in “love”.
I’ve watched the way my daughter's camp teachers include her- regardless of her color, our financial or social status, or even her presumed “mental capacity”. I’ve watched them both speak after Camp & express their love for my child and others like her, as tears roll down both of their faces. I believe that certain special people possess the ability to pour out their heart without expectation of return, and do it joyfully.
3. They've given me a little more time for me.
Sometimes being a caretaker is hard. The tough days are tough. My family is awesome, but I sometimes find negative caretaker thoughts drifting through my brain, such as “I don’t want to bother/burden anyone” , so I often don’t ask for alone time. It’s not that my support circle won’t help, it’s that I don’t ask, so time apart doesn’t happen that often.
One of my greatest worries is my daughter’s current lack of verbal expression. She can’t yell “HELP", or tell me about her day. She is left to rely on other people’s report. I hope both of her teachers know how awesome it feels to watch her walk into Camp and know that she feels safe and happy, and that she will have fun. I appreciate them giving me time for quietness, and for energization.
4. They have given Tayler something I can’t- teenage fun time with others like her.
Sometimes I worry that Tayler is lonely. She is 14 now, and the behavior and interest gap between her and other teens, spreads every day as she grows older. Tayler's camp teachers both create an environment of safety for her- a safe space for her to feel comfortable and be with people like her.
There are no “oddities” or “abnormalities” at Camp- just acceptance and true freedom.
5. They have given my 2-year-old another person to emulate.
While I strive to teach my younger daughter Allison positive traits like empathy and friendship, I feel she can learn even more by watching others who differ from her show respect and love to those like her sister.
Tayler (14) & her sister Allison (2)
I hope to teach my toddler when she is older how to give back to others. I’ve
watched as even the younger assistants hug my daughter and help her participate.
THESE are the qualities that I want Allison to have.
Both of my daughter's camp teachers need to know that THEY help make our summer awesome. I’ve heard them say “Your child holds a special place in my heart.”
My daughter's camp teachers hold a special place in OUR hearts.
They have given us a second home.
Tayler & her friends at "Country Music Lends Down A Hand" Concert.
You can read more about Keli & Tayler’s journey at http://keligooch.com/ .
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