For decades, when asked if children who have Down syndrome qualified to attend Texas Lions Camp, the answer was always disappointingly, “No.” This past summer, TLC opened a pilot program to test how Lions might provide services to this special population of children and families and turn that “No” into a “Yes.” And, on July 17, 2011, we did so for the very first time in our history.
As planning began to facilitate this exciting, first step, many methods of accomplishing the goal were entertained and there were many issues to be addressed. Should children with Down syndrome be mainstreamed into the general sessions? Should the age groups for this camp be the same? Or should it be more restrictive than the norm? Should the session be offered during summer or at another time period? If children with Down syndrome were to be offered their own session, how many children should be allowed to register?
Ultimately, our plan included inviting 75 children between the ages of 7-16 to attend a one-week session programmed specifically for their care needs. The session ran concurrently at TLC in conjunction with the Texas Burn Survivor’s Camp, though the two groups were completely autonomous and assigned separate areas of Camp so that they did not over-lap.
So What Did We Learn?
It is a wonderful and terrifying experience to take a confident step into the unknown…and there were a number of unknowns as 75 children and their families arrived for check-in. Some of the things that became immediately apparent included, but were not limited to the following:
-Definitely, the decision to offer a specific session (rather than mainstreaming into the regular sessions) served the children well in the Texas Lions Camp setting
-The 75 slots allotted for the Camp did not create a small camp…but a VERY-LARGE-CAMP
-With a group of this size, the age limits should be shifted upwards to allow younger children the additional time to develop the skills needed to be away from home (and Mom)
-Programmatically, our standard format and schedule needed to be altered in order to provide one of the things this population needs the most: Routine…Routine…Routine.
-Behavior, rather than age, is more of a critical factor for this population to thrive in TLC’s setting
-The parents/families of this population were very appreciative of the Lions and staff and were a privilege to work with
So What About 2012?
After observing the week, I met with the entire TLC seasonal staff who worked hands on with the kids in order to debrief and request their input for the future. Who better to answer the question, “Is TLC’s offerings in the best interest of these kiddos?” Honestly…I didn’t know what the final outcome would be as the week was a significant departure from our norm, but I expected there could be mixed reviews as to whether or not the program should be adopted in 2012.
To the credit of these young men and women who had just expended every last ounce of energy…there was not a single dissenting vote or negative comment about repeating the program. When asked specifically if they would recommend the program to continue, ~130 hands went enthusiastically skyward with zero stating they wouldn’t enjoy working with these kids again.
This past August, it was my privilege to make a full report to the Board of Directors along with a recommendation to include the Down Syndrome Camp in the schedule for 2012. The Board adopted the proposal and excitedly…we are now making preparations for a repeat program next summer.
What to Expect in 2012
-Camp for children who have Down Syndrome will be offered on July 15-21, 2012
-The ages for the program will be shifted upwards to include ages 12-16
-The program will include up to 75 children
-The 2012 application will seek additional information about behavioral patterns and care needs of campers
We are looking forward to another great season and anticipate the arrival of your kiddos.
Stephen S. Mabry, CFRE, CAE Chief Executive Officer Texas Lions Camp, Inc.