Of all of Jewish Family and Children’s Services’ (JF&CS) programs that strive to help people overcome challenges and live with independence and dignity, one standout is the Quest Camp summer camp for kids with unique and individualized social and emotional needs, most with ADHD, anxiety, and autism spectrum diagnoses.
Aprilynn Artz, LPC, is Quest Camp’s director. This year’s record 56 campers meet at the Community Day School in Squirrel Hill for a day of scheduled activities that emphasize social skills, good sportsmanship, increasing coping skills and lots of fun. The staff is comprised of professional adults and interns who are highly experienced in working with children, all of whose real gift is listening and appreciating kids for who they are.
On a recent morning, the day began with “room activities” (kids choose their own activity like drawing or puzzles); then “group,” a discussion of daily business like relevant details of an upcoming field trip; and “ratings.” Through professional evaluation, parental input and most importantly, direct input from the kids themselves, each child has five camp goals. They cover a general range of expected subjects like sharing with others and taking a break when frustrated, but there are also goals like trying new things and making a new friend.
“Ratings” are periodic “check-ins” on goal progress. Kids rate themselves and each other, and counselors add their ratings as well. All activities are opportunities to make headway on goals, and points are awarded for making progress. On Fridays, campers go to the Camp “Store” which is stocked with different items they have requested, like toys, games and gift cards, and spend their points. All of this creates a continuum of awareness and building on positive achievement.
But the real grace of Quest Camp lies beyond the structure and problem-solving and behavior modification system.
Quest Camp is special for these kids,” says intern Kaitlyn Myers-Brooks, a student studying clinical mental health counseling at Duquesne University who will receive her Masters in December. “When they’re here they aren’t outsiders, and for once people will meet them at their perception of the world. It’s a safe space where they can learn and try out some social skills, and come to take responsibility for their behavior, but mostly they are accepted and valued for being themselves.”
Gino*, Evan and Sam echo that in much more direct terms. Each says the best thing about coming to camp is to spend the day with his two best friends. Jarrod’s response is slightly more poignant; he says it’s nice to be away from his family and school, perhaps where it’s harder to fit in.
Like other JF&CS programs, Quest Camp fulfills a specific critical need in our community, and to do it well, we must rely on partners like you to help support it. Quest Camp is an obvious oasis of acceptance and growth for this group of kids.
*Campers’ names have been changed in consideration of privacy.
Photos: (top) Room activities. (middle) Campers having fun entertaining visitors! (bottom) Kaitlyn Myers-Brooks, Quest Camp Intern
This article brought to you by the JF&CS Weekly Newsletter