A group of occupational therapy graduate students and their professor create a week-long camp for young adults with disabilities

As Elizabeth McAnulty, assistant professor of occupational therapy, was working on her doctoral project, she recalled a residential environmental education program that was offered at her previous job. She wondered if she could create a similar concept at Springfield College, but design it as an experiential learning program specifically for students with disabilities. The idea was to allow these students to experience some aspects of what it’s like to be with disabilities. McAnulty went to work building the framework for the camp, which was based at East Campus. She tasked a group of students in her Occupational Therapy Management class with helping her develop the programming.

“We created the daily schedule, corresponded with different campus departments to reserve space, created a Web page, and came up with a list of potential names (of the program),” said Lauren Wackowski ’17, G’19, who also works as a facilitator
at East Campus.

They decided to name the program Winter CAMP (Celebrating Abilities, Making Possibilities), which ran for five consecutive days in February. It’s designed for youth with disabilities in the transition age, mostly 18 to 22 years old, as they moved on to college, work, or whatever opportunity came next. The goal of the camp’s organizers was to allow the students to gain clinical knowledge, practice social skills, gain independence, and allow the faculty to observe their students in a real-world setting. East Campus was the ideal setting for several reasons. The handicap-accessible facilities accommodated the needs of the camper population. The large kitchen was especially helpful as the campers used it to practice cooking skills and gain more independence. It was also a private location, which provided a reprieve from the activities that took place on the busier main campus. The East Campus location also made the week feel more like a traditional camp, with the campers making s’mores by the fireplace and some of the residents even spending an overnight on the last night. “Your natural environment is your best environment; we call that your context. Nature is the best context that you can have. So getting fresh air, getting outside, we’re always big fans of that,” said Joe Asselin ’17, G’19. “The campers got to hang out on a college campus, make new friends, be more independent, and get outside their comfort zones. They went to the Wellness Center, had leisure activities, and even ate in Cheney (Hall),” said McAnulty. Each camper was mentored by a group of three or four students who planned activities based on their camper’s goals and needs. Asselin mentored a camper on the autism spectrum and based his activities around social cueing and was encouraged to see how well he acclimated to the camp throughout the week. “One of his goals for the week was that he wanted to make a friend because he only had two friends. On the last day he asked me ‘Can I go get that other camper’s number because I think we’re friends now?’ So I talked to the other camper and he gave him his number. So it was great to see him achieve that goal,” Asselin said. A bonus of the program was that many of the occupational therapy students who worked the camp gained their first hands-on experience with this population, and as a result, reaffirmed their commitment to occupational therapy. “It gives the students some experience before they do their field work, and you can see the areas where they need more experience,” McAnulty said.