July 4, 2015
By Leslie Ferenc
KILWORTHY, ONT.—Ask Dan Townsend to demonstrate his scooter skills and he’ll happily put on a show.
There’s the bunny hop, the 180, and myriad other jumps and spins that are most impressive. The 10-year-old smiles broadly when complimented on his prowess.
Even more impressive is that after almost two weeks at Camp Winston, Dan is still there and having a good time. That’s a first for this happy camper, who has learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorder, and has been known to fly off the handle in anger. It’s why he’s been kicked out of a number of camps where he didn’t have the specialized support he needs — the help he gets at Camp Winston.
It’s a magical place for kids 7–13 with a combination of complex neurological disorders — autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive and oppositional defiant disorders, as well as learning disabilities and Tourette’s. Kids can just be kids, and not children that most people don’t want to deal with.
Camp Winston’s aim is to help them succeed at whatever they set their minds to without being judged or alienated by their peers. There’s also a teen program for ages 14-17.
Campers are encouraged to try new activities, including swimming, tubing, kayaking, the ropes course, nature studies and canoe trips, all the while having a lot of fun learning social and gross motor skills. There’s plenty of one-to-one support when needed.
It’s been an amazing experience for Dan, who loves all the activities including being in the nature hut, tending to the animals, biking, basket ball, water sports and just being outdoors.
“I also love drama,” says Dan, adding that he’s created a character he calls Dan the diamond mine cart, “who goes around doing crazy performances.” .
Dan says he’ll miss the counsellors when camp is over. “I love their sense of humour, and they’re always fun and kind. They’re nice even when we’re at our roughest.
“Counsellors at other camps I went to weren’t like that. They knew I had issues and followed me. They restricted my freedom. I was the odd one out. But not here, where everyone has a counsellor helping them.”
And that’s been so important for this young boy, who is kind and reaches out to others in friendship.
“At camp, I’ve learned to be a good friend,” he says, adding that that is someone who “is kind, fun, motivates everyone and helps others even in rough times.”
That’s why Dan plans to return to Winston next year.
To date: $492,954
How to donate: With your gift, the Fresh Air Fund can help send 25,000 disadvantaged and special needs children to camp. The experience gives these children much more than relief from summer heat — it gives them a break in life and memories to last a lifetime.
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