Camp Independence: ‘I Feel Like I’m Part of Everyday Life’
It’s almost lunchtime in the dining hall, and the long, cozy room is rapidly filling up with campers.
At one end of the dining hall hangs a banner emblazoned with the words that guide and inform everything Einstein’s MossRehab does: Challenge Accepted. This is Camp Independence, a one-week program for 40 people with disabilities, sponsored by MossRehab. It takes place at the Variety Club campground in rural Worcester, Pa., a shady campus dotted with small, white clapboard cabins, athletic fields, and an inviting, wheelchair-accessible pool.
As the kitchen staff begins setting out the cheesesteak sandwiches, strombolis and salad, the smell of fresh coffee permeates the room. Coffee, of course, is not typically served in a camp meant for children, but these are not ordinary campers. They’re all adults, many who utilize wheelchairs, some canes and walkers, all with one disability or another—stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and more.
Young counselors—many of whom see themselves moving on to careers in recreation therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, pre-med, nursing and similar fields—bustle about the room, putting together meals to take back to the tables, cutting up sandwiches and strombolis for those who are unable to do so, and making easy, casual conversation.
‘Everybody is So Inclusive’
Susan Arinsberg, who lives in Northeast Philadelphia, has been coming to Camp Independence for 10 years, and is clearly comfortable in this accepting environment. She uses a wheelchair and needs help getting around—again, the solicitous counselors charge right in—but she has no trouble getting into the spirit of things.
Arinsberg graduated from LaSalle University in May 2006 after completing all her in-class requirements for the elementary/special education program. Then, in November 2006, she survived a ruptured brain aneurysm, followed by a right hemisphere stroke, which severely weakened the left side of her body. She was discharged from MossRehab inpatient therapy in April 2007.
As with all the campers, Arinsberg’s days are filled with activity. “Wednesday was the first time I was able to go fishing since I was a pre-teen,” she says. And she enjoys the pool. “It’s the only time I get to go swimming. Not like I could before my stroke. I still miss being able to go in the deep end, to jump in and swim, but at least I can go into the water. And the Variety Club lifeguards are very nice, too.”
What Arinsberg most appreciates about the camp is that for one week, she’s the same as everybody else. “I feel like I’m part of everyday life,” she says. “Everybody is so inclusive here. It starts from the top down.”
“I Wish It Could Be Longer”
MossRehab’s Anne Wieland, CTRS, MHA, has been affiliated with the camp for 13 years, and administrator for the last seven.
Camp Independence applications go out as early as January, Wieland says, and the 40 spots fill up rapidly.
One of the most gratifying aspects of Camp Independence for Wieland is watching how the camp counselors progress. “You see such a change in these young adults we’ve hired. It’s unbelievable the transformation they go through in seven days. You know they’re not doing it for the money. They’re not getting a lot of sleep. It’s a lot of lifting, a lot of care, and they’re giving a whole lot of themselves.”
If running the camp is a challenge, getting ready for it might be even more challenging. Wieland is involved in all the camp logistics, right on down to ordering the marshmallows for the S’mores.
“It’s probably four months ahead of time to pull off one week,” Wieland says. “Then there’s usually a month of wrap-up afterwards. It’s a huge undertaking. But I would do it over and over again. As soon as we’re finished, I’ll always wish it could be two weeks. I wish it could be longer.”