Camp Firefly & Melanie’s Journey
Camp Firefly touches the lives of over 80 campers each summer at Camp Chi. Here is an example of the impact that a longtime Firefly parent sent us after camp.
After watching her older brother and sister go away to overnight camp, Melanie had been asking to go too. We knew it would be a struggle for her to make friends and fit in, so we didn’t send her to that camp. A few years later, we discovered Camp Firefly. The interview showed that she would fit nicely into the small camp. She looked forward to going and couldn’t wait for the big day. When we arrived, the camp was welcoming. After only a very short time, Melanie was taken away to start camp. When we went to pick her up she had the biggest smile on her face. We knew it was a success! We liked that the counselors and staff all had special education training, and we were really impressed when we heard there were also social workers present to help the campers make friends and fit in socially. Melanie was able to pick from a wide variety of optional activities to participate in and found out she loved the zip line! While being scared of the high ropes, she still tried it with some encouragement from the counselors. She has been going there for 4 years, 2 years in Teen Camp and 2 years in Next Step, and doesn’t shy away from the high ropes anymore. The camp is something she looks forward to each year. She keeps in contact with some of her fellow campers she met there. At camp, she relates well to the campers and the counselors, and each year has become more confident about what she does there. She likes that sometimes the camp takes small field trips to the Dells for bowling, ice cream, water activities, etc. but also just really loves the camp atmosphere of being able to be yourself with no judgments from others. The staff is excellent at helping the campers work through conflicts that may occur. She found a dedicated staff that listened to her issues, helped her when she was upset, and encouraged her to move onto a new path. Melanie talks about camp all year long. She has learned to be away from home for several weeks at a time, with no contact with us, and never felt homesick. Camp Firefly turned Melanie’s summers into fun and exciting time.
Last summer, Melanie came to Camp Firefly for her fifth summer and was our pilot camper for the FLIT, Firefly Leader In Training, program. The FLIT program was modeled after the Camp Chi SIT program. Melanie spent her time at camp learning how to be a staff member by working with cabin groups and leadership staff. The experience provided Melanie with an opportunity to learn self-advocacy skills, patience, and to be more outgoing. She said, “Being a FLIT is really fun! You have more responsibilities than being a camper. You have to be a role model to the other campers.”
Camp Firefly is a unique partnership between JCC Chicago and JCFS Chicago. Camp Firefly offers overnight camp programs at Camp Chi for children and teens ages 9-18. Camp Firefly specializes in creating a supportive camp environment for individuals on the autism spectrum, as well as with related social and anxiety disorders. If you would like more information about Camp Firefly, please visit us at http://jcfs.org/campfirefly.