Winter Camp

The spring-like weather doubled the fun this time around. Everyone was able to transition easily and comfortably during our daily field trips to bowling, skating, the aquarium, and more! The afternoons were calmly spent on the playground and basketball court. It was a fantastic four days leading up to what will surely be a wonderful New Year! Many thanks go out to all of our volunteers, camp benefactors, and especially to Friends School, for sharing their beautiful campus. 

Please click here to see all the fun.

Kids stayed engaged at Winter Break Camp

Winter Break Camp was only 3 days, but they were packed full of activities. From holiday themed field trips to Hunt Club Farm’s Winter Wonderland and the Dicken’s Christmas Towne at Nauticus to special guests like Anna-Marie the Zumba instructor and the Salem High School cheerleading squad, the kids were engaged and having a blast.

Check out the fun.

Behind the Scenes of Camp Gonnawannagoagin’

What you don’t know about our Super Woman

Everyone involved has a different perspective about Camp Gonnawanngoagin’. As donors, sponsors, volunteers, counselors, board members, or campers, we all have our own understandings of how the camp operates. Until recently, my personal connection was that I had been a senior counselor for over 10 years, and I did my best to pour my heart and soul into our occasional fundraisers. However, it wasn’t until I accepted a year-round position that I finally had the opportunity to experience the magnitude of Camp Gonnawanngoagin’. I was completely naïve about the intensity of preparation and the degree of travail necessary to pull this off year after year. Above all, I was fundamentally oblivious to the remarkable capacities and efforts of our Executive Director, Pam Clendenen.
Each year, Camp Gonnawanngoagin’ looks relatively similar: Everyone shows up, receives their color-coded schedules, acquires their t-shirts, and heads to their assigned groups where they begin to get to know one another. Soon after, they head to their bus or van and are swept off to whatever activities are scheduled for that day. All in all, it seems relatively simple, right? Wrong. Here is a little glimpse behind the scenes and the one woman behind the proverbial curtain.
Since FACT does not have a permanent campus, every year this woman reinvents the wheel. She brainstorms, she researches, she exhausts all of her contacts, and she engages in one meeting after another until she finds the perfect place to have camp. Once this is done, applications go out. And although spots fill up faster than Paul McCartney tickets are sold, she manages to find a place for the majority of applicants. Once we have campers, we need something for the campers to do. To make this possible, Pam proceeds to contacting every local amusement park, aquarium, zoo, sports facility, farm, bowling alley, skating rink, etc. in order to provide age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate excursions for our campers. Next are the details; behind every schedule, law, safety check point, camper, volunteer, staff member, bus, van, insurance policy requirement, and t-shirt, there is Pam. She averts potential crises and minor mishaps seemingly with ease, while remaining overwhelmingly positive and energetic. The entire process is seemingly endless and too massive to handle, but she does it and she does it well every single year.
Pam Clendenen isn’t the type that would ever give you a laundry list of what she does well while awaiting a pat on the back. I chose to share this with the public with no ulterior motives, but simply because it’s worth sharing- simply because I am impressed. Sometimes it takes even the most perceptive people to truly understand and appreciate what is happening right in front of their faces. It is a reminder to never take certain people in your life for granted, especially the humble ones.
-Lauren Cook

Peer Buddy Point of View

This is a blog post that was written by one of our Peer Buddy volunteers here at F.A.C.T.

F.A.C.T. is a non-profit organization in Tidewater. This organization holds dozens of fundraisers and activities for autistic children in our area. Some of the activities are bowling leagues, scavenger hunts, spring, summer and winter camps, bike camp, an adult party to raise money and many more. This organization does wonderful things for autistic children. Any one of the children that participates in any of these activities usually leaves saying “Mom, when can we go back?” The camp is a week long program and every day the autistic children go swimming and go somewhere else in the community. This helps them to build up their social skills and make new friends with their counselor and junior. This helps a lot because most of these kids have to be in a special ed or a secluded classroom with no regular kids like you and me. Many of these kids do stuff like run away, bite, scratch and kick sometimes. It is not because they hate you or want to hurt someone it is because they do not understand.  They do not know any better. Some of these kids may never be like you and me but in the long run this camp helps them so much in ways we may never understand.

The reason why I keep coming back each and every summer to this same camp is because of my brother. My brother has Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism). He was diagnosed at the age of 3…the year I was born. My brother is one of the lucky ones out there with autism because I have seen children with much worse cases then my brother. I hope that all my efforts towards these children while they are young will help them in the long run. What I mean is I hopefully could teach them what they need to now to succeed in life. The only reason why I even want to help all of these kids is because of my brother. He has had a huge impact on my life. I hope I can keep going to this camp to help make a difference in all of these children’s lives’ love my brother. I hope he keeps influencing people’s lives.

One of the kids I’ve been a peer buddy for is Tommy. Tommy is special to me. Every summer I want to be with him. I don’t know why something just clicks when I am with him. He is another reason why I come back to camp each summer. He may not be the best behaving kid. That is ok though because I enjoy a challenge. He is very different from the rest. Something about him makes me want to love him so much. Tommy has impacted my life very much, I hope I did the same and he feels the same way. Tommy is so amazing I never want him to change. Tommy is a great kid I hope he stays that way.

Volunteering Pays: My Favorite Oxymoron

When I tell other non-profit organizations that Families of Autistic Children in Tidewater (F.A.C.T.) attracts more than 250 student volunteers each year they are envious and they should be.  I could not be more proud of our volunteers. Some enter our programs innately able to engage and mentor our campers with autism.  Others need more training and guidance.  But in the end, they all learn so much about autism and the satisfaction that comes from serving others. They gain empathy and leadership skills. They become advocates for individuals with disabilities. Hopefully they go out into the world and share the point of view they developed while volunteering for F.A.C.T.

Of course I’m not so naïve as to believe all this volunteerism is strictly philanthropic.  First of all our programs are fun and interesting.  Because we are community focused, our social programs and camps involve lots of outings to places like the Virginia Aquarium, Laser Quest, and Ocean Breeze water park.  Volunteers can earn community service hours and an awesome recommendation for college or job applications.

My timing for this blog is not coincidental.  March is typically the time of year when parents and children begin planning their summer activities and schedules.  When I was a kid, the sum total of that plan was to be outdoors from dawn to dusk. Today, kids are involved in so many activities that careful advanced planning is necessary.  So for all my would-be student volunteers, let me officially announce that applications will be available on this site on May 1st and they will only be available for 2 weeks.  Camp will be in session from July 7 through August 15.

Each year camp receives more than 300 applications for only 200 positions, so not everyone will be able to participate in camp.  However there are many other volunteer opportunities and I’m sometimes disappointed at how few come forward to fill those year round programs.  Teen night, tween time, bowling league, and bike camp all need student volunteers so please consider taking part in one of these programs.