‘Everyone Said I Could Do It’: Kids Learn From Each Other at Camps

Reprinted with permission from The Pantagraph 

By PAUL SWIECH, The Pantagraph Health Editor; Photos by Steve Smedley and Lewis Marien

HUDSON — Alex Meszaros sat 60 feet above ground on Wednesday. He had just completed a high-ropes course.

But to get down, he needed to use the zip-line. He was building up his nerve.

“I’m afraid,” Alex, 14, admitted to high ropes leader, Dyllan Miller, 25, of Lexington. “I don’t want to fall.”

Smiling as he zip-lines through the air, Alex Meszaros, 14, felt good about himself after he had the courage to push himself off the platform to begin zip-lining from 60 feet in the air at Timber Pointe Outdoor Center.

“You’ll be out of a job if I fall down,” Alex told Miller, showing humor amid his fear.

“I’m right here with you,” Miller assured him.

“Alex, all the way back here. Let’s go,” Timber Pointe Outdoor Center Executive Director Deb Townsend, called out, encouragingly.

“You got this, Alex,” said several of his fellow campers.

A short time later, Alex was zipping down the line and helped out of his harness.

“It was kind of scary,” Alex admitted. “But everyone said I could do it.”

Welcome to summer camps at Timber Pointe Outdoor Center at Lake Bloomington, where fears are faced, nature is embraced and differences are celebrated.

In addition, several of the camps this week have a different twist.

While many camps are for children and adults who have the same disability, so they can enjoy a camp experience together, this week’s three camps — attended by 45 children and teens from throughout Illinois — are combined: Discover Zone and Discover Zone & More for youth with high-functioning autism; Trail Blazer and Trail Blazer Unlimited for those with attention deficit disorder; and U Can’t Do That At Camp for children and teens who are typically developing or have a disability but function at a high level.

Grant Daly, 11, watches as Devon Swope, 9, fishes at the waterfront of the Timber Pointe Outdoor Center.

“We tried it (combining the camps) last year,” Townsend said. “It’s a growing concept so we are trying it again. The parents are excited that a variety of kids can experience camp together because it builds awareness.

“It builds awareness among typically developing kids of kids that live with challenges everyday,” Townsend said. “The kids with challenges are being mentored by typically developing children and they feel acceptance. They all learn from each other.”

Alex, of Wilmington, has been coming to Trail Blazer camp for several years — since before the camps were combined. What does he think of combining the camps?

“That’s nice so you have a lot of kids to talk with,” Alex said.

“I’m glad they did it so a lot of kids could go to a camp and get to do all the activities,” said Grant Daly, 11, of Fisher, another Trail Blazer camper.

“The kids take the initiative to be inclusive,” Townsend said. “They’ll push each other. They want to help. The value is they’re together in community.”

Grant said he has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“It’s hard for me to sit still a lot,” Grant said. “During school, I sometimes tap my foot and my fingers. Other than that, it (having ADHD) is not bad.”

“I like camp,” Grant continued. “It’s good to go away from home a little and then come back. I like doing the outdoor activities and meeting new people. They (camp counselors) keep a close eye on you, which is good.”

Camp counselor Laura Kemper helps out Kira Dees with a craft project at Timber Pointe Outdoor Center.

“This takes them out of their comfort zone and they do things they normally couldn’t do,” Miller said. “We deal with a lot of unique situations with the kids and their disabilities. Sometimes, they’re nervous. But once they do it, they feel good about themselves.”

“I’m going to face my fear,” said Discover Zone camper Zoey Pepsak, 11, of Bartonville, before zip-lining.

“I did something good at camp,” Kira Dees, 19, of Normal, a Discover Zone camper, said as she hugged her “best buddy,” camp counselor Laura Kemper, 21, of Peoria. “I rode a horse twice and then I have to do the zip-line.” She also went canoeing, fishing and tie-dyed socks.

“Yeah, I like camp,” Kira said.

Kira has come to Discover Zone for several years. “It is so much fun to see her grow up,” Townsend said.

Kira smiled. “I became a woman.”

If you would like to support programs like this, please consider contributing to the Illinois Prairie Community Fund’s Annual Campaign. To donate online, click here.

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