One of the grandest of all Maine traditions is the summer camp experience, especially for youngsters, but even better still for individuals who have disabilities.
Here in Maine we are so fortunate that, for 66 summers, people with special needs have had the opportunity to attend Pine Tree Camp on North Pond in Rome.
A program of Pine Tree Society, the camp was established in 1945 as “a summer therapy outlet for children with disabilities,” according to a release, and it has, “over the years, evolved into an innovative, barrier-free environment offering fully accessible recreation to Maine people with disabilities.”
The 2011 Paddle for Pine Tree Camp, the 15th annual event that helps provide tuition assistance for campers and their families, begins with registration at 8 a.m. and the paddle at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, June 4, on North Pond.
The site is fully accessible, and the paddle is appropriate for all ages, skill levels and abilities.
A Pancake breakfast, for $5 each, precedes the paddle at 7:30 a.m. at the camp, and then kayakers and canoeists push off to navigate the pond under the watchful eyes of Maine Guides and expert volunteers who will serve as escorts for the approximately 2-hour paddle, which is followed by a free, celebratory barbecue.
Participants are asked to raise a minimum of $100, and you can register by emailing email@example.com or by calling 443-3341.
Having been a Maine summer camp counselor years ago, I know how special this experience is, and I realize how even more remarkable it must be for someone with special needs.
That’s why I was so pleased to learn about the experiences of 15-year-old Danielle Beauregard of Hampden, daughter of Mark and Tracy Beauregard, who will attend Pine Tree Camp for two, five-day sessions this summer.
When Danielle, who is non-verbal and whose growth and fine motor skills are compromised, was about 8, PTC hosted a weekend program for a caregiver and a child, specifically for someone like Danielle, who had a “speech device that was new to her,” Tracy said. “It was my first introduction” to the camp, “and I was just so impressed with how the weekend was run.
“The counselors and all the volunteers were all so upbeat and energetic,” and the manner in which “they interacted with the kids” was gratifying.
For a parent of a non-verbal child, Tracy was amazed how counselors and volunteers “were not afraid to do things with her. She was just another camper. It was wonderful.”
Two summers ago, Danielle attended PTC with a personal caregiver her parents provided, and then, the next year, Danielle went on her own.
And that point is what Tracy wants to stress, for all caregivers who wonder if they can do what the Beauregards did: Send their children off on their own.
“It was a big leap of faith for my husband and I to send a handicapped, nonverbal child off with strangers,” Tracy said, “but I can’t think of a better way to do it.
“When we arrived, the counselors were waving and clapping and yelling her name, and we were so excited to be there. The counselors came right up to the car, unloaded it, did the intake work and we said goodbye.”
It was a wonderful week of respite for her parents and Danielle’s older sister, Tracy said.
“I wish I could tell you what Danielle thinks of it,” Tracy said, “but we do know that she came home tired and happy, and a little more independent which is interesting” because of the level of her cognitive development.
“It’s almost like she’s telling us to back off. I can do this,” Tracy said even through Danielle needs assistance with all her daily living.
Tracy and Mark appreciate the fact they are able to take advantage of this opportunity, and they encourage other caregiver families to do the same or, at the very least, explore the possibility.
Danielle is currently enrolled in eighth grade, but Tracy said, “we know she’s not going to go off to college like our older daughter.” Danielle’s parents recognize, too, that “we’re not always going to be around to care for her.
“The first thing you learn is that others can care for her,” Tracy said. “That was a huge step for us, and we felt so comfortable. I’ve mentioned it to other parents of kids with special needs.”
Before Danielle attended that first weekend, Tracy never thought she could send Danielle off on her own, but now she knows differently.
“I’ve encouraged other parents to just go” to Pine Tree Camp and “check it out and see what it is like. I recommend going to visit and to see what it is doing for families like my own.
“We do get breaks and have great caregivers and respite providers, but for some families, that is their only break.”
If Pine Tree Camp is a summer experience that might benefit your family, Tracy and Mark strongly urge you to learn more about it.
For more information, write PTS, Box 518, 149 Front St., Bath 04530; call 443-3341; or visit www.pinetreesociety.org.
Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; firstname.lastname@example.org; 990-8288.