My name is Liz Hamer. I am a married, working Mom of two amazing kids. My daughter is 17 and is in the process of evaluating colleges. That brings a fun set of challenges into our lives. My son Carrick is 13 years old. He is full of energy, very curious, and is a social butterfly. He also brings a fun set of challenges into our lives – he has Down Syndrome AND Autism. Yep – he’s an overachiever! Carrick attends respite weekends at Camp Sunnyside as well as Day Camp during the summer.
First off , this is hard. It’s hard because how do I convey to you what Camp Sunnyside means to my family? How do you express this feeling that is Camp Sunnyside into words? I simply won’t do it justice, but I’ll give it my best shot.
Like most parents, we get joy out of seeing our kids happy. And to say that Camp Sunnyside is Carrick’s happy place is an understatement. We are learning in our house not to tell Carrick he is going to camp until it’s time to go to camp. Time doesn’t have a lot of meaning for Carrick, and if you tell him on Tuesday that he gets to go to camp on Friday, guess what you are going to hear every five minutes?
“Mom. Mom. Mom. Go to camp”?
“You go to Camp on Friday. We have to wait for Friday.”
“Nooooo! Go to camp!!”
Like I said – we are learning. But sometimes we can’t contain our excitement for Carrick and we spill the beans too early. And we pay the price😊.
So – when the day comes, we tell Carrick he gets to go to camp. You’ve never seen a kid get out of bed so fast. He leaps out of bed and he’s ready to go. He absolutely lights up! We get loaded up in the car. I play some music and Carrick does his happy dance in the backseat. Sometimes, I have a hard time keeping the car on the road! Seriously! No joke! It’s like this the whole way to camp! And it’s a 30-minute drive!
When we get to camp, he’s very eager to be rid of me and just go be Carrick. He doesn’t have much patience for the social exchanges I have with the staff. It’s the one time he willingly initiates eye contact with me. He wants to be sure I’m listening when he says “Bye Mom!” And he means it.
And speaking of the staff, the culture at Camp Sunnyside is true and absolute acceptance that Carrick can’t get anywhere else. It is unparalleled. Carrick gets to be Carrick here – no apologies. That is a beautiful thing.
The staff get him to do things I would never have imagined. From climbing rock walls to performing in a talent show. He does it because he loves them and he’s having fun – all while he is learning, growing, and expanding his horizons. It’s simply amazing. We get acceptance, growth and love for Carrick while he’s at Camp Sunnyside. What else could we possibly want for him?
I remember the first day I dropped Carrick off at Camp. I was so overwhelmed by what I saw and felt here – I cried on the walk back to my car because Carrick was going to spend his whole summer here. Tears of joy!
And then a couple of weeks ago, we joined hundreds of others for the Walk for Independence at Camp Sunnyside. And I cried again – this time because Carrick does not get to spend his whole summer here. Tears of sorrow. There are simply too many kids like Carrick that need this very special place. They need this place because Camp Sunnyside is not only the gold standard by which all camps should be modeled after, it’s also the ONE AND ONLY camp serving special needs kids that working parents like myself can send our kids to. We have one option and while it’s an amazing option, there’s simply not enough funding to meet the demand. Parents are left making tough choices – working less or not at all or looking at care options that are not optimal. In the end, the kids are paying the price because they are not getting what they need. They NEED Camp Sunnyside.
Thank you, from the very bottom of my heart, to you all who have given to Camp Sunnyside. I ask that you please, please continue to give to Campy Sunnyside so that my boy, and so many other kids like him, have a safe, happy, and loving place to grow.