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Inclusive Camp Welcomes Special Needs Children

  • June Soh

Helen O'Brien, who is autistic and developmentally delayed, tackles the climbing wall at Camp Accomplish in Nanjemoy, Maryland.

Helen O'Brien, who is autistic and developmentally delayed, tackles the climbing wall at Camp Accomplish in Nanjemoy, Maryland.

Campers - both with and without disabilities - take part together

Many school children in the United States go to camp during the summer months, but what makes Camp Accomplish unique is that it brings children with disabilities together with those without disabilities.

It is a place for children with or without physical, developmental or emotional issues.

A climbing wall is one of many offerings at Camp Accomplish. A nervous Helen O'Brien is getting ready to climb. She is encouraged by fellow camper Camryn Evans, who just did it herself.

“Just climb and make it to the top,” Evans tells her.

“I will just climb and make it to the top," says O'Brien. "I will do it. I will do as best as I can.”

O'Brien is autistic and developmentally delayed. Evans is not. That diversity is a big part of the experience at camp

“A goal that we have is that as they become more aware that there is differences with the campers and as they grow up when they meet someone at the grocery store and school that they remember all the fun they have with campers with disabilities here at camp and just say 'Hey, they are just like me.'" says Jonathon Rondeau, chief program officer of the camp.

This is Evans' third summer at Camp Accomplish and she says she can learn from campers with special needs.

“I want to be a special education teacher when I am older," Evans says. "So if a kid is deaf, I should be able to know how to do sign language so I could be able to communicate with them.”

Camp Accomplish is located in the state of Maryland. It's a part of Melwood, a non-profit group that advocates for people with disabilities. The campers with disabilities span a wide range. But many cannot express themselves verbally.

“This year we are serving 550 campers over the course of the summer," says Rondeau. "So over the last three years, we are seeing more and more families wanting to go to camps, a camp that is truly inclusive.”

It's also the third summer for Danette Broughton's daughter, Rachel.

“It provides her an environment where she learns how to interact with different types of disabilities and different types of people with those disabilities,” says Broughton.

The camp has 50 staffers and half of them come from overseas. Camp counselor Ben Head, a certified ropes trainer, is from Britain.

“When I go back home after this summer, I am going to start training as a history and special ed teacher," says Head. "I will try and make things as much like Camp Accomplish as possible because I think it is a brilliant place to, and a brilliant way to practice learning and growing together.”

Brothers John and Conner are both developmentally delayed. Their father, Danny Mabry, has seen a change in the boys since they began coming to camp.

"I think it has helped with their self-esteem a little bit as well as their social interaction with other kids and other people," he says.

Mabry says he is glad his sons were able to participate in camp and they look forward to coming again next year.