Reviewed & Edited by: Becky DiLettuso, MSW, Executive Director
At teli, we provide Early Intervention to children from 0 to 3 years of age. Over our years of service, many of the children we care for are children with chronic illness or disabilities. One of the largest challenges facing these children and their families is how these children can experience fun, in a safe environment that allows them to step out of their numerous therapy and medical care appointments and gives them a chance to just be a kid. Where can they leave the stress behind and enjoy their childhood?
Becky DiLettuso, Executive Director of teli, has often had that question asked by families to whom teli has provided support. “Recently I visited The Woodland’s Foundation in Wexford, PA to learn more about this resource. I found a place to really get excited about that can provide a wonderful opportunity for children with chronic illness to explore unique experiences in a safe and fun environment!”
The Woodlands Foundation is an organization with a mission that is focused on enriching the lives of children and adults with disability and chronic illness. Jesse Solomon, Director of Programs at the Woodlands Foundation, explains, “We provide a variety of enrichment programs for children as well as adults that enables them to explore social, cultural and recreational activities while developing friendships with other children and our staff. It is all about the experience!”
Providing Respite Through Unforgettable Experiences
Providing experiences as a respite from daily therapy sessions and medical appointments is key to the programming for children at the Woodlands. Cub Club , an introductory camp for children from 6-12 years of age is available on alternate Saturdays during the school year from 9am to 4pm. Additionally, a special weeklong camp is available during the summer months. Children attending these programs may have diagnoses of cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, as well as autism spectrum disorder. The day camps enable the children and their families to begin to have exposure to time away from home in a safe environment.
Letting Kids be Kids!
“Our campers interact with our counselors, all of whom are college students pursuing careers in the health field. These young people become close mentors to the children, providing all the care and support needed from providing meds, helping with activities of daily living along with engaging them in fun activities,” notes Jesse. “With their counselors, they are able to explore our spacious 52 acre site, specially designed for children with special needs to be barrier free and enable kids to be kids.”
The Woodlands campus has been retrofitted so that campers can experience their environment like many of them have never experienced before. Children are thrilled to be able to ride a horse, travel on a zip line or explore the woods via a wheelchair accessible Nature Trail and toast a marshmallow at a cozy campfire. Campers can also engage in archery, enjoy splashing in an indoor pool or try their hand at golf! “At the Woodlands it is all about the possibilities!” shares Jesse.
Fun and Friends, a Great Combination!
An enormous part of the experience is socialization for children that may feel isolated in their family environments. With the help of the counselors, they are able to interact with other children and participate in social activities. Being with other children enables them to “practice” socialization skills such as how to start a conversation with someone you’ve just met as they begin to build friendships over the long term.
How Kids and Parents Feel About Cub Club
Children spending time at the Woodlands are able to take a step back from all the stressors of their everyday life. Jessie shares one comment from a camper: “One camper expressed to me: “At the Woodlands, I can be myself and meet other kids just like me!”
Parents reaction to the camp is “Wow! This is such a positive experience in a process that has been more overwhelming than supportive, “notes Jesse.”Parents must navigate so many hurdles to help their child from establishing the initial diagnosis and finding the proper medical care to, exploring resources to working to devise an Individual Academic Program (IAP). When they come to the Woodlands, they relish in the fact that their child “just gets to be a kid,” notes Jesse.
Interesting in learning more? Visit Woodlands Foundation to gather more information about their programming.