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Camp SOAR brings siblings together at Hashawha

Campers at Camp SOAR play introductory games

The kids at Camp SOAR set off in groups to find items around the grounds of the Hashawha Environmental Center to complete their quests.

It was a scene common at outdoor camps, but two things set Camp SOAR apart. One, the camp is for patients at Kennedy Krieger Institute. Two, siblings attend the camp together, even siblings who are not patients.

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Patients at Kennedy Krieger Institute have a variety of reasons for their stays. Some are born with disabilities, while others had corrective surgeries and are working to regain functionality. Others have traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries or tumors on their spinal cords or brains, said camp director Kelley Marcue.

Marcue is a certified therapeutic recreational specialist at Kennedy Krieger, but for the weekend, she's a camp director, helping to keep the kids busy and creating bonding experiences between siblings, campers and counselors.

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Camp SOAR, which stands for Sibling Outdoor Adventure Retreat, started eight years ago after a group of employees were reminiscing about their camp experiences.

"And we were trying to figure out a way for our inpatients to have a similar experience," Marcue said.

The campers are between the ages of 8 and 16. Any siblings in the age limit can also participate, but they typically have groups of two or three, Marcue said.

Camp staff come from all over the institute, with some from nursing, occupational therapy or a medical-related field while others come from medical records, finance or human relations, Marcue said.

"I honestly don't know who has more fun, the campers or the staff," she said.

Camp SOAR runs for the weekend, with campers arriving at 4 p.m. Friday and leaving at 1 p.m. Sunday. They'll stay at Hashawha in the cabins, which allows parents to also get some time off. The camp provided gift cards to parents to help them have a relaxing weekend, Marcue said.

It was Garrett and Jacob King's first time at the camp. Jacob said they were attending so they could do activities for Garrett.

Garrett said he's already played the card game UNO and was looking forward to going canoeing.

"And I'm excited about the campfire and the pool," he said.

Canoeing was the favorite of the Conklin siblings of Elkridge. It was their fourth time at the camp.

It's a good bonding experience for the siblings, said Charlotte, 12.

"I think it's just really cool that we can go with Ava and do things she can do," Charlotte said.

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All three enjoyed canoeing last year, including collecting seaweed that they placed in a counselor's bed as a practical joke, she said.

But Owen, 10, said it was a little scary due to a movie they had recently watched.

"I thought we were going to die. We just saw 'Jaws' before it," he said.

Ava, 14, said they've returned to the camp because they had a fun experience the previous years.

Also returning to the camp was Omar Hightower, 11, and his brother Jamal. The siblings from Aberdeen have come to the camp three years, they said.

"It's fun and everyone is so enthusiastic," Jamal said.

Omar said his favorite part of the camp is playing with the friends he's made. The counselors are also funny.

He came back because "it's fun. The people here are hilarious. My parents get to have alone time," he said.

Most of the activities on the schedule for the campers are typical of what one might expect for an outdoors camp at the environmental center. Marcue said they have adaptive equipment, either provided by Kennedy Kreiger or the families, to modify activities to fit those in wheelchairs or leg braces, like Ava, Omar and Garrett.

Each group of siblings has a counselor with them, but Marcue said the camp helps the siblings bond because everything is done as a group.

"I think one of my most favorite things is just seeing the siblings interact with each other," she said.

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