Anyone who has volunteered before will tell you that the feeling you get when you know you're truly helping someone is unrivalled and a placement on a special needs camps offers one of the most unique and rewarding experiences you can have. Typically, special needs camps cater to campers who have a variety of needs - from learning to emotional needs, from physical to mental disabilities. As a counsellor you'll generally be placed in charge of a small group of campers (normally between 2 and 6) and will be required to spend your day ensuring they're enjoying the activities on offer at the camp in a safe environment.
Campers will most likely come from families in the local area and can range in age from 8 - 80. It is very common to find adult campers at special needs camps. Due to the nature of the camper's condition, you should be prepared to undertake physical work - campers in wheelchairs for example will require lifting. You should also realise that in some instances, campers will need assistance of a very personal nature (such as feeding, bathing or toileting).
Special needs camps do the hugely important job of giving both the camper and their families a break from their day-to-day routine, and for many coming to camp for a few weeks is the highlight of their summer. Many campers come back to the same camp every year as do the counsellors and close bonds and a real sense of community develop very quickly on special needs camps - being a part of that is amazing!
In addition, on a special needs camp you're likely to develop some skills that really will last a lifetime, such as patience, empathy and a greater understanding of what those who are less fortunate than many can achieve given the right support.
If you have prior experience in this area, that's helpful although it's not essential. What special needs camps really need are staff who are willing to put their campers first, work hard and approach even the most challenging situation with a smile.
A great example of a special needs camp that we work with is Camp Northwood. Camp Northwood is a beautiful special needs camp for campers with both mental and physical disabilities. It’s situated in Upper New York State and only an hour and a half away from Lake Ontario. It’s set in the quiet wooded region of Remsen on the banks of the Hinckley Reservoir, where it caters for all things camp! Activities include basketball, baseball, tennis, radio, drama, arts and crafts and trips off camp! The camp also provides academic studies for campers who are falling behind in school. All round, it’s a hard-working camp with a lot of rewards and benefits.