I have been attending Camp Jabberwocky for 47 years. Participating in the Fourth of July parade is one of my favorite activities while at camp. It gives me and my fellow campers the opportunity to celebrate Independence Day as well as our independence. In our outrageous costumes with our fun-loving counselors, we also express our appreciation to our Martha’s Vineyard friends.
Without their generosity and support, Camp Jabberwocky could not exist — they have given us the freedom to enjoy the summers. We participate in all sorts of activities such as swimming, horseback riding and canoeing. Some campers even occasionally enjoy life on the edge by going parasailing.
Before Camp Jabberwocky was established in 1953, people with disabilities like myself rarely adventured out into mainstream society. Our homes and especially institutions were our prisons. In addition, we could not partake in most, if any, recreational activities especially during the summers.
A speech pathologist named Helen Lamb from a rehabilitation clinic in Fall River began a revolution in the summer of 1953 by wanting to establish a summer camp for people with disabilities on Martha’s Vineyard. She envisioned that it would give parents a well-deserved rest, as well as giving their sons and daughters with disabilities independence.
Six children from the clinic went to Martha’s Vineyard the first year. For the first time in their lives, they enjoyed swimming, boating, horseback riding and taking sightseeing trips up-Island. They also played and talked with youngsters without disabilities, which was revolutionary at that time.
After reading Mrs. Lamb’s ideas and pleas for help in the Vineyard Gazette in 1953 to establish a camp for people with disabilities, many Islanders wanted to join her revolution.
Like Mrs. Lamb, also known affectionately as Hellcat, they wanted to give the disabled the same opportunities to engage in the good things that life had to offer. Supporters started donating money, blankets and sheets, food, and other essential stuff to camp. The Oak Bluffs 4-H Club let the camp use its facilities for 11 summers until 1965, when the Episcopal Parish on the Vineyard gave the camp eight acres in Vineyard Haven for a larger and permanent home. And that was when Mrs. Lamb’s son, John, christened the camp Camp Jabberwocky.
Since the age of five, Kristen St. Amour has been coming to the Vineyard with her parents. She loved getting candy at the Fourth of July parade, “but my favorite part of the parade was seeing Camp Jabberwocky,” Kristen said. “I was so intrigued by this unique group of people in their crazy but creative costumes.”
Kristen, also known as Sully at Camp Jabberwocky, who became a counselor at 16, added: “The first summer I was a counselor at camp and actually saw the amount of hard work and long hours that went into the parade prep, I was overwhelmed. Counselors work all day and night, most with no sleep the night before the parade. My favorite part of the parade is toward the end when we reach Main street in Edgartown and see the craziness of Camp Jabberwocky.
Fellow camper Nancy Connelly said: “It’s actually a tradition with me because the Fourth of July means I get dressed up and march in a parade with my friends.” Nancy has been enjoying her summers at Camp Jabberwocky for 19 years, and like me, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
Like my friends Nancy and Sully, now on the board of Camp Jabberwocky, most campers and counselors consider Camp Jabberwocky our second home. Many of us have been coming to this magical paradise for many years and have formed lifelong friendships. We are also able to express our individual independence and share our craziness with each others’ craziness, happiness and sadness on Facebook and going on winter follies.
Camp Jabberwocky is requesting that you read its letter and return envelope, which will be an insert in the July 6th issue of the Gazette.
Paul Remy is a freelance writer who lives in Fall River and contributes occasionally to the Gazette.