Harbor Light Leading the Way for Summer Camp
Spring is in the air with summer not far behind. If you’re still looking for a camp for the kiddies, you may want to consider the Harbor Light Foundation. The camp runs from the week of July 9th to August 24th for kids aged four to 12. They offer an opportunity for kids of all developmental stages, including kids on the autism spectrum. Now in their fourth season, they’re already booking their summer weeks.
What makes them different is how they incorporate typically developing kids with atypically developing kids.
“There are benefits on both sides,” said Stacy DeSabella, founder and program director at Harbor Light Foundation. “Kids understand they need to be patient with some of the other campers. Some students may need a little extra help. I’ve had parents tell me, ‘You’ve changed my child’s life!’ Those kids go home and now want to be helpers.”
Activities are structured to keep children occupied and interested. There are cooking classes, arts and crafts, field games, music classes, and a water slide. The camp schedules a field trip every week. They might go to the Beardsley Zoo or they might go bowling.
Even better than all the activities they have in store: the student/teacher ratio. Depending on enrollment, there is one counselor to about six or eight children with two adolescent counselors-in-training which totals about 16 kids aged 13 to 18 years old. There are four activity specialists, two directors, and one medical director. Every kid gets that one-on-one treatment.
But Harbor Light is quick to point out that this is a typical camp environment. That was important to both DeSabella and Rich Douglas, DeSabella’s business partner. Working in special education, they both expressed frustration at not being able to find a suitable camp situation for their students. Some of them had autism or Asperger’s. Some of them had what’s known as PDD-NOS, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. For these kids, other camps were either too overwhelmingly large or the staff was unqualified because they didn’t have the educational background to work with autism-spectrum kids.
But here, all the activities you might expect in any other camp are present. They just happen to include a group of kids who might not have the opportunity for a camp like this anywhere else. Because the camp admits all developmental levels, parents have a place to drop off their autistic child with their siblings.
“We have a professionally experienced staff and we’re just trying to provide a nurturing environment,” said Douglas, the camp’s Executive Director. “But the single drawing factor is word-of-mouth. [All] the kids have a great time and then tell their friends about it.”
Marybeth Auszura, the camp’s cooking specialist, said everyone has fun working together. The kids learn how to cook in ways that incorporate science as well as creativity. They husk corn and make corn cakes. They make pancakes without using a packaged mix.
“Both the boys and the girls love it!” she said. “It’s funny how the kids will try some foods that they normally won’t try at home.”
Auszura noted that vegetables cut up into a salad were a really big hit. She also went on to say that home cooking is often no longer taught in the schools because so many kids have food allergies. She said they are very sensitive to that fact and take care in working with only those foods that the kids can eat.
The camp is set up on a week-by-week basis with themes like “Top Chef” and “Survivor.” Located in the same building complex as the First Presbyterian Church at 2475 Easton Turnpike, hours run from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with early morning drop-off and after camp hours until 4:00 p.m.
For more information about the camp or to register online, visit their web site at harborlightfoundation.org or call 203-292-6949. You can also e-mail them at email@example.com.