Posts Tagged ‘camp’

Volunteer Q&A from our NC 2011 Camp.

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Here is a little window into the volunteer experience from our last camp. Thank you to Mike Harris and Millie Cox  for their time at camp and for taking the time to answer some questions.

Q:What was your favorite memory? 

A: I would have to say my favorite was getting a camper to sing ‘I Can Fly’ to our cabin after lights were out.  It was quite moving, as the campers respected his work, and he took the opportunity very seriously.

A: Seeing Scott do the Zip line. Being asked to dance by one of the campers.
Q:Favorite Camper quote(s)?

A: ‘Ughhhhhhhh’, ‘How tall?’.  And ‘Hey Mike, I will take care of you.  We have to smell good for the ladies.’  And then he sprayed me with his special John Valvartos cologne.

Q:Any surprises? 

A: I was extremely surprised at how close I became to the campers.  Separating at the end of camp was surprisingly hard.

A: Feeling so at ease and comfortable around the campers. One, I had never been to camp in my life. Two, I had never been around adults with developmental disabilities. Three, I had always walked funny and crooked my whole life and felt self-conscious about this. On games day, I got to join a team and do the egg walk and other fun things. I had never had the courage to do this before. I figured that everyone would be staring at me but at Camp Blue Skies, no one cared — and there were others who walked funny like me!


Q: Anything you would do differently?

A: The camp did soooo many things right.  I did offer up a number of suggestions during camp.  I do like the idea of helping make the campers have a higher sense of value via hair cuts, mani and pedicures, etc. 

A: Can’t think of a thing. I think it’s great the way you have it.

Q: Proudest moment?

A: When virtually every cabin member came up to me at one time or another and said things like “Love you Mike.”  Or, “You are a great friend Mike.”  This gave me a feeling of adequately fulfilling my role.

A: One of the campers (who throughout the week, was not having much fun) came over and sat down with me, during free time, outside the cabin and after a few minutes, opened up to me and started a conversation. I feel like I really connected with him. 
Q: One thing that surprised you?

A: I was totally surprised at how functioning most of the campers really were.  It was just great to communicate with them, to hear their honest feelings on many different subjects.

Q: Something you would never change about camp?

A: Somehow you have created a special ‘family feel’ that makes the experience so special.  Never change that.

A: Location. Camp Harrison is THE perfect place.



Where Do Our Campers Live the Rest of the Year?

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

You may be wondering where our campers reside when not living it up at camp. The answer involves personal preference and level of support needed for each camper.

One of the best parts of camp is celebrating the strengths and weaknesses of one another. Someone may be scared to go fishing or try the zipline, while others need a little encouragement to sit next to someone new or sleep in a cabin for the first time.

Providing support is the foundation for everything we do at camp. This can be seen in how we create the schedule, pick our locations and train our volunteers. Our hope is that our “home away from home” is a safe place for campers to grow socially and emotionally.

Often, campers’ “actual” homes are also tailored to their specific needs and strengths.

When not at camp, our Camp Blue Skies campers typically live in a group home, at a post-secondary boarding school, with family members, or independently (with family members or on their own with support).

Group Homes are “small, residential facilities located within a community and designed to serve children or adults with chronic disabilities. These homes usually have six or fewer occupants and are staffed 24 hours a day by trained caregivers” according to the encyclopedia of Mental Disorders website.  Camp Blue Skies has created partnerships with InReach located in Charlotte, NC and Annandale Village based near Atlanta, GA to send campers. These organizations also send professional staff that works beside our community volunteers in supporting the campers.

Post-Secondary Schools are designed to teach life and living skills to students who have complex learning differences. These programs provide support in money management, job training and social skills needed to live independently. The Bridges program through Philips Academy in Charlotte, NC and The Horizons School  in Birmingham, AL have sent students, staff and alumni to our camps. The goal of these programs is to promote independent lifestyles for their graduates.

Independent campers can either live at home with a parent or guardian or live on their own. Independent campers often come alone and for some have never been away from home. This quote sums up one experience for a 2010 North Carolina camper (and his Mom). Morgan is 24 years old. Camp Blue Skies was his first overnight camp experience. It truly was worth the wait… Everything and everybody exceeded our expectations. Morgan’s first phone message home said “mom having great time, I love this, I’ll stay 31 more days.”  Alice Grier, parent.”

We love blending campers with different abilities and backgrounds and strongly believe that providing the opportunity for a person to find similarities in someone who is different from themselves is one of the most important parts of camp. We hope to continue to create communities where everyone involved feels like they have found a second (or third) home.

Dick Sesler’s Telling of How Our “Core” Blue Skies Family was Born.

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

There is nothing quite like a Dick Sesler story.

It is nearly impossible to not get engrossed in every detail as he re-counts twists and turns using a great sense of humor, humility and a twinkle in his eye.

We just had to share this version of how our core team family was born.

Nine months before the start of our first camp we had just one team member (me) and one camper (my son Brent) – and a signed contract with Camp Harrison , which has a capacity of over 100 beds.

How we were able to attract 62 campers and volunteers and then put on an unbelievably successful one week camp is a good story.

It starts with the annual CampMinder conference in Western North Carolina.  CampMinder is the premier youth camping software for on-line camper applications and medical reports, plus much more.  

At the conference I was clearly an oddity – my campers were adults, they had developmental disabilities and I didn’t own a physical camp.  

One participant heard my story and quickly introduced me to one of her colleagues, Liz Golembeski.  I liked her immediately – plus she was highly qualified to be our program director.  She worked for Adventure Treks leading young people on challenging camping adventures in the Western States and had experience working with children with Autism.  My wife, Betsey, and I met with Liz and she soon signed on.  And then she left for three months somewhere in the mountains of CA, Oregon and Washington before returning a month before camp!

I met Rebecca Blecke (now Rebecca Hilinski) through the land broker who was helping me find a place to build a camp – an idea that fortunately was dismissed in favor of renting existing camps in their off season.  Rebecca reached out to me to ask if she could help. I knew her incredible skills of organization and detail – not my strong suits – and so I immediately found more work for her than either of us anticipated.  

She quickly assumed responsibility of our online donor management system, CampMinder, our books and records and our Foundation reports – plus a hundred other things that any small business, for profit or not for profit, requires.  Rebecca missed the second half of our first camp to get married – bad timing.  Somehow we made it through and she is now Assistant Director.

My goal for each camp is a ratio of one volunteer for every two campers.  With less than six months before the first camp I had successfully recruited less than a handful of volunteers – mostly those people who could not say no to me (at least the first time).  These included my sister, Becky, three of my fraternity brothers (class of ’71) and one of my best friends in Charlotte.  

Mary Tinkey’s name was given to me by Kathi Knier, the Development Director of InReach, an agency in Charlotte that serves adults and children with developmental disabilities.  Mary and Kathi are former presidents of the Junior League.  Mary and her husband have three teenage children and she is involved with multiple school endeavors.  Somehow Camp Blue Skies sounded like a good idea and once the momentum gathered, Mary’s hard work and drive convinced over 60 qualified and enthusiastic volunteers to help with camp!

I must have asked everyone in Charlotte to help me find someone to help with our medical service needs.  Then Kit Sluder appeared and suddenly Camp Blue Skies was complete.  Not only was Kit an experienced RN but she had worked in the camping world for many years including Camp Thunderbird, the sister camp for Camp Harrison.  Our team quickly learned from Kit that we had a long way to go in the medical service area.  She successfully recruited volunteer nurses and a doctor and then helped each parent and guardian complete our health forms.  Then she developed our medical and emergency protocols.  At camp, it was clear to me that Kit made camp a safe place where medical needs and emergencies can be handled professionally and without fanfare.  

So there you have it. Our Blue Skies family was born and the rest was history.

Our family tree is growing daily and we believe we have the best family reunions in town!

Camp Blue Skies State of Mind

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

A case of “the blues” can sometimes follow powerful group experiences like a week at camp. To combat the letdown, here are five thoughts on how to blend the best parts of camp into your everyday life.

5. Make a new friend or ask a fun question!

Friendships happen on many levels.  Make a new friend next time you check out at the store by sincerely saying, “Hello” and asking the cashier how they are doing.  Even easier, ask a friend an interesting question (what’s your favorite vegetable/song/summer activity) to deepen your friendship.

4. Try something new.

Camp is all about stepping out of your comfort zone.  For some that means feeling the wind blow through their hair while trying the zipline for the first time.  For others it may be trying a new food, acting silly,  or dancing with reckless abandon

Outside of camp, stepping out of your comfort zone can range from trying a new item at your favorite restaurant to going sky diving for the first time. Either way, doing something that scares you keeps life exciting and rewarding.

3. Slow down and enjoy the moment.

Looking at the sun sparkle on water, noticing for the first time how beautiful a silhouetted tree looks at dusk, finding a moment to laugh with friends may seem like camp specific events, but they don’t have to be.  Here are some tips on how to slow down in the modern world and enjoy the moment.

2. Tap into a new community.

Being part of a community is a way to learn new skills, strengthen your social network and live a fuller life. If you are interested in making more connections with adults with developmental disabilities, here are some programs who have earned the Camp Blue Skies seal of approval.

1. Enjoy the small things.

Sometimes joy can be found in the tiniest of details. Asking yourself some questions may help uncover some of the fantastic details in your life. For example, what do you love about your house, car, partner, neighborhood, closet, bathroom, new jacket? There has to be something in your world that simply makes you happy.

Camp allows for us to slow down and notice these small pleasures. The evidence can be found with every smile, laugh and hello. Why not bring this part of camp into your everyday?

Good luck with bringing the Camp Blue Skies love home. Hope you can be a part of our community this October in North Carolina or next March in Atlanta, GA.

Please post below what keeps you in a positive Camp Blue Skies state of mind — we’d love to share it.

Liz G., Camp Blue Skies Staff

Camp Blue Skies Summer 2011 Newsletter: On The Ground

Monday, July 18th, 2011

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