Campers and staff from Camp Easter Seals UCP put on a show that redefined the meaning of respect and focused on what they can do instead of can’t during this year’s second annual performing arts camp. The show was on Aug. 11, at the conclusion of the Aug. 6-11 camp.
The show was the last activity at the camp in Craig County before campers went home and they spent all week preparing for it. This year’s show had a particularly important theme: “Spread the Word to End the Word.”
Spread the Word to End the Word is a national campaign to encourage people to stop using the words “retard” and “retarded” related to children and adults with disabilities. These words are pejorative and hurtful, campers and caregivers point out, because they reinforce stereotypes and negativity.
To open the show the audience, which was made up of mostly parents and caregivers, was treated to a music video the campers had put together. The video showed campers holding handmade sign that said things like “Focus on what I can do, not on what I can’t do.”
Other signs proudly boasted their abilities, such as canoeing, singing and dancing, and character traits, including encouraging, kind and loving.
One camper’s sign proclaimed “I am Feisty!”Another’s said, “I am Super Woman.”
“I can scooter!” said 12-year-old Ben’s sign. When asked what he liked best about camp he was attending for the second year, he said “Fishing!”He has fetal alcohol syndrome and is being adopted by his foster family in Roanoke.
For the remainder of the program the campers sang and danced to songs specifically chosen for their positive lyrics, such as “True Colors” by Cindi Lauper and “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. Campers also wrote original lyrics to a few of the songs in order to bring home the point. One line in John Mayer’s “Waiting for the World to Change” was re-written to say “It’s hard to be respectful when you use that word.”
Besides preparing for the show, each of the 18 campers, who range in age from 8 to adult, said they had a wonderful time doing usual camp activities. The staff at Camp Easter Seals is committed to the belief that “All children and adults with disabilities should have the opportunity to participate in traditional camp activities,” as Camp Easter Seals’ website says, and they live up to that commitment. All campers were given the chance to canoe, fish, swim, ride horses, make plenty of art and crafts, and also try their hand at archery.
And don’t forget those fun camp traditions. This year each camper came home with a T-shirt that proudly displays a moose, in reference to the “Kiss the Moose” contest at camp. They also came home singing, “My mommy gave me a nickel; told me to buy a pickle; I didn’t buy a pickle; Instead I bought some bubble gum” and other silly camp songs.
Fun aside, though, campers also learned about loving and respecting themselves and others. They know that despite their challenges, which include intellectual and physical disabilities of varying degrees, they are still capable of much of what people without disabilities are – they just might have to go about it in a different fashion. Most importantly, they learned they are all deserving of the new “r-word”: respect.
By Danae Wensley