Camp Jabberwocky, a summer camp for children and adults with disabilities, is enthusiastically looking forward to celebrating its 60th anniversary this summer. The celebration will also give fellow campers and me the opportunity to thank the residents of Martha’s Vineyard for helping make camp possible. For the past six decades, your generous support has succeeded in allowing the camp to grow and flourish.
With our fun-loving counselors, all unpaid volunteers, we campers participate in so many activities I can’t name them all, but here are a few: swimming, of course, also horseback riding, kayaking, windsurfing, fishing, drumming on the beach with our Vineyard friends, watching sunrises and sunsets and lying on our backs on the cool sand at night to watch the shooting stars.
Some activities are especially therapeutic. For example, I have cerebral palsy, a disability which causes me to have involuntary movements. So while horseback riding I always wanted counselors to hold onto me for dear life, fearing that my spasticity would throw me off the horse. One day two counselors were running along both sides of the horse as usual, when, at a signal, they stopped holding onto me. I was sure that gravity would pull me down full force to the ground. To my surprise, I stayed sitting straight up and rode the horse without anyone helping me stay on that horse. After years of horseback riding with me staying in the saddle upright, by myself, I gained better back posture and control of my body.
When Helen Lamb established Camp Jabberwocky in 1953, the medical community at the time thought that such a camp would be detrimental to people with disabilities. Dr. Timothy Johnson, the former medical editor of ABC News whose daughter was a camp counselor, stated, “Even in the early 70s, I think the medical community, in general, felt that overnight camping activities for people with disabilities was a real stretch.” He did not recall a single lecture or course in medical school that focused on people with disabilities. When he went to Boston in 1969 to study emergency medicine, he saw acute injuries, but did not have any long-term contacts with patients with disabilities.
Many campers and counselors have been attending Camp Jabberwocky for years. This is my 50th summer at camp, which is my home away from home, and during these years I have made many wonderful, lifelong friendships.
One friend, Mary Beth, was in second grade when her parents first contacted Camp Jabberwocky. She was put on the camp’s long waiting list. “I’ve been on the waiting list approximately my whole life,” Mary Beth said, “so I was thrilled to be finally accepted when I turned 14!” Mary Beth has cerebral palsy, too; she’s a wheelchair user like me, and like me, she forgets she has a disability while at camp. She loves the annual prom. “It’s the only time when disabilities don’t matter and we all can just dance,” she says, “I always love the way the counselors come and pick me up and dance with me, as if I had no limitations at all!”
Kristin, another camp friend, who also has cerebral palsy, enjoyed 24 wonderful summers at Camp Jabberwocky. Besides having fun while leaning out precariously to catch the gold ring at the Flying Horses in Oak Bluffs, she acquired a new self confidence in her abilities. It would be so easy for the counselor to catch the rings for the camper, but at Jabberwocky the easy way out is frowned upon, ridiculed even. Instead counselor and camper together figure out a way for the camper to catch the gold ring.
“I learned how to celebrate and incorporate my differences into my daily life,” Kristin said. “This helped me to ignore negative comments by nondisabled peers in school and to have confidence in my abilities.” Kristin, now married, uses what she learned at Camp Jabberwocky in her work as a clinical mental health therapist.
As a person with cerebral palsy, it is wonderful for me to see that medical nursing students are also counselors. They learn so much about people with various disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and spina bifida, by helping each other live with laughter and yes, sometimes tears, through the summer days and nights. Such knowledge will help future physicians and nurses to better understand and treat patients with disabilities.
“I think it would be wonderful if all medical students could at least be offered elective opportunities to work in a setting like Camp Jabberwocky,” Dr. Johnson said. “It would be a fantastic learning experience, medically and in many other ways.” He added: “I think the program at Camp Jabberwocky is one of the most amazing volunteer efforts I have ever seen. And the friendships and bonds between campers and staff usually become lifelong.”
All of us here at Camp Jabberwocky want to thank our Island community for nourishing these wonderful relationships, and we hope you will join Camp Jabberwocky to celebrate its 60th Jubilee on Tuesday, July 16, at 7 p.m., at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs.
Dr. Tim Johnson will host the festivities, which includes special guests Chad Stokes of Dispatch and State Radio, pianist David Crohan, The Vineyard Sound, Rick Bausman and The Drum Workshop and several of your favorite Jabberwockians. There is also going to be a silent auction with fabulous prizes.
Tickets are now being sold at TicketsMV.com/Jabberwocky and at local stores. We look forward to seeing you at the Jubilee celebration, and know you will have a marvelous time listening to great music and to the presentations from campers, counselors and friends.
Paul Remy is a freelance writer and occasional Gazette contributor who lives in Fall River.