Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Adults make their own choices at summer camp

by IVY FARGUHESON The (Muncie) Star Press on July 17, 2011 12:00 AM

MUNCIE, Ind. -- For Crown Point's Amanda Rysiewicz, summer camp at Isanogel isn't only about hot days in the pool or doing arts and craft with her friends.

It's about independence, being treated like the 30-year-old adult that she is, as opposed to a person with special needs who others assume needs to be babied.

"People sometimes treat people like me like kids, like we don't know what we're doing or what we want," Rysiewicz said.

"But I'm an independent woman. I know what I want to do. At Isanogel, they get that.

"That's why I love coming here each year. Plus, when I'm here on vacation, my parents are on vacation, too, so we get a break from each other."

Being able to live a completely self-sufficient life might not be realistic for most of Isanogel's clients, but for a couple of weeks in the summer, they get to choose how they want to spend their vacation, similar to other adults their age.

Do they want to sit by the pool all day and read books? Done.

How about spending their afternoons drawing pictures for a book they want to finish by the end of their stay? Completely possible.

And if they want to write a letter to Justin Timberlake in the weekly newspaper, The Nogel News, asking him to come for a cookout and just hang out? Just do it, as the clients are doing this week.

Although children attend Isanogel for one week in July, the emphasis for most of the camp's existence has been on adults and their development.

Slightly less than 40 percent of the adults typically live with family or in group homes, supported living sites or long-term health care facilities.

The summer break provides them with a chance to be on their own and be themselves without being told what they should do with their time.

"For a lot of our clients, making their own choices just isn't possible, whether they live at home or in a long-term health care facility," said Elizabeth Piazza, vice president for art and recreation for Hillcroft Services, the agency that operates Isanogel.

"We're really here to help them get those independent living skills they want. Whether it's to brush their teeth alone for the first time or to go in the pool and swim a lap, we help them meet their goals, goals they make."

For more than 50 years, Isanogel has been a home away from home for children and adults with various degrees of developmental and intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy and seizure disorders.

People from 8 to 85 years of age have attended the camp each summer, giving them a chance to make new friends, see old ones and learn more about the staffers who make their summers so exciting.

This year, more than 200 adult camp clients will participate in a "Lights, Camera, Camp" movie-themed summer experience, with all recreation activities tied to an iconic film from the past.

The Wizard of Oz provides the theme for this two-week period, allowing clients to bowl using "Wicked Witch of the West" pins and create crafts with the film as an inspiration.

The Isanogel campers also viewed the film the first night of their stay, building the excitement of the week's activities.

"I get to play the Wicked Witch in a play," said Brayde Hines, a 20-year-old from La Porte.

"I want to put green paint on my face and everything. It'll be a lot of fun. That's what's fun about (Isanogel). We can come up with new stuff."

Creativity is encouraged throughout the stay, including in the pool, where safety is stressed, but feeling good about yourself is also a key to the program.

Isanogel is not a camp that acts as a baby sitter for adults with special needs, according to staff.

Fostering a positive self-image is as important as having a good time.

"I've worked at a lot of camps, some for people with special needs, but this is one of the few that make campers feel like they can make a decision if they want to," said Isanogel aquatics director Alex Wallace. "My biggest goal is to make them see they can achieve what they want and we do that one day at a time. That's what makes this place so fun for staff, too. Seeing campers decide what they want and see them do it is great."

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