On a hot July day this past summer, our family of five loaded up our minivan to the brim with what we would need for a week to attend Camp Attitude.

As we headed up I-5 toward Foster, just outside Sweet Home, we were excited, but a little apprehensive about the week ahead. A dear friend of mine had told me about this amazing camp for special needs families; her family had attended several summers and she really encouraged me to sign up. Her words to me were, “It’s better than going to Disneyland.”

I have to be honest, that made me a little skeptical because really, how can we compare the happiest place on earth with anything else we could experience?

It took us a few years to get around to registering, but this year I decided to do it. My husband had no idea what or where we were going but he trusted me and was willing to join us on the adventure.

As we arrived at the camp, we were greeted by a sea of red and yellow T-shirts and to the sight and sound of people dancing to “Cotton Eye Joe.” I had tears rolling down my cheeks. I had a feeling that this wasn’t going to be any camp — this was a special place where our family was going to experience a lot of love and joy. There was a sense of belonging and being seen right from the beginning.

As we parked our minivan we were met by some amazing young men who helped us unload our stuff and helped us with our boys so we could get settled and make sure we felt welcomed and cared for right away. Camp Attitude is all about serving and caring for people. In fact, their motto is: Serve, serve, and serve and serve some more. And they make sure families experience that right away.

Thinking back to our week my heart is just overwhelmed by the fact that this was several months ago and yet the impact of Camp Attitude is still very much on my heart. Our boys refer back to it almost every day.

Our family that week got to experience activities that we can’t always do easily together. We had help from some amazing teenagers. They buddy the campers and their younger siblings with a teenager who stays with your camper all day. They eat meals and just generally hang out with you. They also stay with your camper so you can attend the activities that they put on for parents. We felt like we gained two extra kids that week. We loved the two that were partnered with our boys and we had a lot of fun, but also felt like we made a friendship with them.

They served self sacrificially, never complained, they were just amazing. The teens that serve as buddies actually pay to work at the camp, and they work with the kids from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., all week.

When you have a child who is born differently or you find out a few years into your journey that something is different developmentally, it can be a struggle and very difficult for everyone.

When our son was diagnosed with Autism, while I was thankful to know what we were dealing with, there is a sense of loss and sadness that things were not what you had expected. To be honest there were days when I even wondered if anything good or joyful could come out it. You can feel alone and isolated at times, not really sure where you, your child or even your family fit?

For me, as time has gone on, I am able to see some of the amazing treasures and gifts along the way and Camp Attitude is definitely one of those treasures. I loved being able to connect, laugh, cry and just enjoy being with families whose story was maybe a little different than ours yet similar.

I love that Camp Attitude is inclusive and every child gets to experience the activities that are organized, whether it’s laser tag or going out on an inner tube during Lake Day.

There is so much more I could share with you, but I won’t because I would love for you to experience it for yourself. And yes, Camp Attitude is as good as Disneyland (except the food and company is better). It is definitely one of the happiest places on earth.

If you are interested in learning more about Camp Attitude and its mission, or even maybe you think you could serve during the summer or help in another way, check out www.campattitude.org.

The camp is a nonprofit, faith-based organization, but everyone is welcome regardless of their background or beliefs.

Registration for summer 2019 is filled, but there is a waiting list.

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