A group of recent Howard County graduates have combined their love of athletics and working with students with special needs for a three-week camp this summer at Glenelg High School.
Camp Inclusion is the brainchild of A.J. Rosenthal and Evan Sanna, both 2009 graduates of Glenelg High, who were inspired to offer a camp after extensive work with special-needs students during the school year.
The program, available to special-needs students enrolled in high school, is being offered at Glenelg in three one-week camps. Campers who attend all three weeks receive a discount. The camp will wrap up at the end of the month.
"It is important for them to have something to do," said Dallas Wiles, 17, a counselor at the camp. "They just need someone to be there and make sure they have fun."
Rosenthal and Sanna, both 18, wrote a proposal early in the school year and got the support of the school administration and the booster club to offset some camp expenses, including insurance, supplies and payroll. The students persuaded a teacher, Carly Robinson, to work with them at the camp.
All the work has been worth it, according to the teens.
"It is awesome to see the kids have a good time," said Rosenthal. "It's almost like hanging out with your friends for four hours a day. They're just like any other teenager."
The day typically starts with campers running a few laps around the track. After the warm-up, the students participate in an organized sport of the day. After lunch, they do up to two arts-and-crafts activities.
"It's hard to keep them active all day," Sanna said, referring to the lack of physical activities available to special-needs students during the summer. "This is an organized way to keep them active and keep the cobwebs away."
When asked to participate, Wiles, a recent graduate of Linganore High School in Frederick, suggested that the camp offer an arts-and-crafts component. Activities have included playing with Play-Doh and making bracelets and birdhouses.
"It gives them some time to think during the day," said Wiles, who also worked with special-needs students while in high school. "They really enjoy hands-on things."
The response by the campers has been overwhelmingly positive, the counselors said.
"I love seeing the kids smile when they are having a good time," Wiles said. "They feel that they mean something. It means a lot to me. I just really enjoy seeing people get positive reinforcement."
Camp Inclusion works largely because of the team effort by the counselors, according to Sanna.
"Everyone is supportive," he said. "It makes it fun to be here. We make it work through determination and keeping strong with the dedication."