(CHATHAM AND EFFINGHAM COUNTIES) For the past 11 years, the Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society (LDSS) has been helping students with Down syndrome enjoy summer fun at Camp Buddy as they prepare for the upcoming school year – and this year, not even a global pandemic can stop them! The LDSS will host Virtual Camp Buddy June 22 through June 25, 2020.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic upended life in mid-March, people have turned to internet meeting applications like Zoom or Google Meets for everything from business meetings to class sessions to worship services. Now, add summer camp to that list. With web-cam equipped computers, parents and their campers (ages 7 to 16) will gather for the virtual camp each day during the camp session.
Look for the features that made Camp Buddy a favorite with families for more than the past decade, according to Molly Marchese, the camp’s co-director with Pam Hussey — things like involvement of occupational, physical and speech therapists, and learning cleverly disguised as games.
“The summer break always presents the threat of children losing ground as they’re away from the classroom, and that’s heartbreaking when they have worked so hard,” said John Bogardus, president of LDSS. “This year, we knew we couldn’t give up on Camp Buddy because children have been out of the classroom for at least two additional months. All kids need to have a fun and exciting summer, and we’ve worked out a way to do that safely with a virtual day camp that also reinforces learning.”
Previous camps started out using church facilities and moved on to public school facilities, with different sessions for Chatham County and Effingham County and nearby areas. As the pandemic gobbled up larger and larger chunks of the calendar, LDSS’s leadership realized that a physical camp was simply not possible in 2020. The answer was Virtual Camp Buddy, largely an improvisation driven by necessity.
“We’ve always had a very therapeutic approach to camp, with involvement by speech, occupational and physical therapists, and also a focus on socialization and grade-appropriate level education by special education teachers,” said Marchese.
What are some activities that can be done in a virtual camp? She gave the example of a scavenger hunt, where children are asked “Where do you go if you needed to find a toothbrush?” or working on fine motor skills by being told to find a jacket that zips or something that buttons.
The physical camps were generally based in a public school, with students often using the camp as a home base for field trips. Instead, this year the campers will be led through various projects via Zoom and its audiovisual links. The plan is to return to the physical format in future years, but Marchese said the virtual version may present some future potential as well. Depending on how well things go in this first year, it could become an option for serving children who live in areas without summer options for differently-abled children.
The camp sessions will run daily on each of the four camp days. Most of the slots are already claimed, but parents can see if any positions open up by emailing Marchese at firstname.lastname@example.org. The camp fee is $20.
Working with Marchese and Hussey will be occupational therapist Melinda Hawkins, physical therapist Joy Marshall, speech therapist Helen Reynolds and special education teacher Traci Whitaker.
“Our campers look forward every year to Camp Buddy, and we are determined that our virtual version won’t disappoint them,” said Marchese. “So much of our daily lives has been turned upside down by this virus, but we aren’t going to let it rob the children of a joyful learning experience that, for many, is a summer tradition.”
ABOUT THE LOWCOUNTRY DOWN SYNDROME SOCIETY
The Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society (LDSS) supports people with Down syndrome and their families through local leadership, support, outreach, education and advocacy. Meetings are held every fourth Tuesday of the month, typically with a guest speaker and social time for families to meet and interact. LDSS encourages the whole family to attend; children of all ages are welcome. LDSS is an affiliate of the National Down Syndrome Society. For more information about LDSS, visit ldssga.org
Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society