The Autism Society of Ohio Mahoning Valley office, in collaboration with the Youngstown YMCA and Supported and Facilitated Environments, is excited to announce that it will be hosting camp for children with special needs at the downtown YMCA.
Camp F.R.I.E.N.D. (Finding Rewards In Every New Day) is the first program of its kind in the Mahoning Valley. This camp is dedicated to offering an inclusive day camp experience for students with autism and their friends.
Modeled after Camp Sunshine for Exceptional Students in Aurora, the camp’s daily activities will be structured around building social skills to provide evidence-based instructional opportunities in a fun setting. The focus of each monthly gathering is on facilitating meaningful friendships in an environment where children feel comfortable and supported.
Launched in June 2013, the group is for children ages 3-18 and meets the second Tuesday of every month as an outing where young people can have fun with typically developing peers under the support of trained educators and practitioners.
Activities at the camp include all the elements children enjoy about summer camp, but have the bonus of an autism-qualified staff to provide a supported environment while ensuring an equitable experience.
“Our staff experience and student-to-counselor ratio is extensive and unmatched,” says Jen Gonda, Camp F.R.I.E.N.D director and special needs educator at Summit Academy High School for Autism.
Each of the four age-based groupings will be led by one certified teacher or BCBA, assisted by an experienced paraprofessional aide and supported by a high school compassionate peer.
Staff will dedicate time preparing camp activities and setting up positive behavior support systems.
“I am hoping that these types of community-based activities will help the Mahoning Valley as a whole be more aware that students with autism and related disabilities deserve the same opportunities,” says Gonda.