Walking into the campgrounds on a damp morning, at first glance it seemed no different than any other youth camp. Upon closer observation however, it became increasingly clear that the campers were unique, and even more eye-opening was the type of classes going on throughout the campground.
The campers in the bright yellow shirts were not learning how to make fire, but how to practice chemical safety in their homes. They were not making art projects out of feathers and beads, they were learning how to give CPR. They were not going on nature walks, they were developing a natural disaster home safety plan. No, this was definitely not an ordinary camp at all.
The Joshua Center is first of its type in the country to develop a program like this for kids with neurological disorders. Campers came in as far as Lincoln,
Nebraska to be a part of this program. At Safety Camp Day Camp the kids hear from experts, but there are specific activities to reinforce each objective as well. They have to experience it in some way to take ownership of the material. The Joshua Center follows the same American Camp Association standards for this Safety Camp pilot program. This program partnered with community experts to help kids understand the seriousness of safety considerations at home, at school, and in the community. The Center reached out to local police departments, fire departments and other community experts for help.
“The professionals that have stepped up, I mean its just amazing,” exclaimed Becky Ottinger, founder of the Joshua Center.
John Bergman, the School Youth Community Outreach Officer from the Raymore Police Department described how he became involved with the camp.
“Becky asked if there was any way I could teach stranger safety and home alone safety with the kids and I said, ‘Absolutely, I’ll do it!’”
When asked about adapting his safety talks to this particular group of kids he said, “I did research on kids with Autism and Aspergers. I looked at the subject matter and asked myself what is going to be the best way to relay this information to them so they will understand it and learn from it. I really didn’t do much as far as changing it. They are extremely bright kids. They are real good about asking questions. I’ve been having a ball!”
Becky Ottinger started the Joshua Center for Neurological Disorders in 1996 after her son was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, OCD, and ADHD. In 2003, the Center started seeing kids with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism. It provides: therapy for parents and children, help with schools, and social skills classes, and an annual American Camp Association accredited camp program at Rotary Youth Camp in Lee’s Summit. The Center also works closely with local child psychiatrists, neurologists and pediatricians.
As a former teacher, Ottinger felt very strongly that it takes a village to raise these kids. As part of that village, Ottinger developed a Safety Camp Day Camp to meet at the Rotary Camp. The Safety Camp project idea came after recently developing game cards “Speak Up,” “Safety Smart,” and “Fire Safety” for the Me and My World Social Skills Curriculum and Board Games. There are classes taught in churches by education professionals throughout the Kansas City Metro area and over 100 local schools are now using the curriculum a
“Speak Up” cards were developed after extensive research revealed that in every school tragedy the shooter was severely bullied, and in every situation someone knew of the impending tragedy and did not speak up.
“I have followed every school tragedy since and sadly the same scenario continues,” laments Ottinger.
The “Safety Smart” cards were developed from a request from a School Counselor asking for community safety cards and lessons. After the recent tragic kidnapping and murder in Springfield, MO the topic is extremely important.
“Fire Safety” cards were developed after a fireman, Mike Van Aken from Raymore, who works with families after a fire tragedy and said the kids are all “our kids.” Prevention 1st in New York has worked very closely with the Joshua Center to ensure they are on the right track to address fire safety. After talking with them about their concerns over fire drills the Center has developed a School Fire Drill lesson to specifically address the severe sensory issues of kids with neurological disorders. The Center will pilot the program in schools this fall. “I have spent over 500 hours developing the curriculum and feel pretty good about it. With 1/50 children being diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum, I feel a greater need to do what we can to help. After watching the tragedy unfold in Santa Barbara this spring and learning the young man has Aspergers we must push forward to help as many people as we can,” said Ottinger
The skills that the kids were learning at the camp were life skills that will help them maneuver through a world that does not always make life easy for them. Knowing vital safety information will give them confidence and ownership in their lives.
Ottinger hopes to start Social Skills classes in Raymore soon. For more information please contact the Joshua Center at their website http://www.joshuacenter.com. For more photos of the camp, go to the Raymore Journal’s Facebook page.