As a kid, summertime is a rite of passage for getting dirty, forging friendships, and learning lessons outside of a textbook. Summer camps and sports leagues shape the childhood memories of active adults everywhere, flexing the importance of experiencing fitness and health, social interaction, or sportsmanship and confidence at a young age.
However, some children need an alternative to traditional summer camps and sports leagues to help them learn values such as teamwork, perseverance, and judgment. For example: Kids with chronic skin diseases need programming that allows them to be active while also providing specific medical supervision—something not available through most neighborhood swim teams or overnight camps. Luckily, access to these supplemented programs is available, and not just for kids with chronic skin disease. Barriers such as income or physical disabilities are no longer an excuse to deprive kids of the benefits that come from practicing an active lifestyle.
Three organizations that offer specialized training, programming, and good, old-fashioned fun include the American Academy of Dermatology’s Camp Discovery, the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas’ iCanShine, and the Austin-based Marathon Kids. Each program focuses on giving children with various needs the tools to succeed and grow though an active and healthy lifestyle.
(American Academy of Dermatology; campdiscovery.org)
For: Young people ages 8–16 with a chronic skin condition.
About: Under the expert care of dermatologists and nurses, Camp Discovery offers campers the opportunity to spend a week among other young people who have similar skin conditions. Many of the counselors have serious skin conditions as well and so can provide support and advice to campers. Fun, friendship, and independence are on the top of everyone’s agenda, and everyone shares in the discovery of what it’s like to be included.
Activities: Archery, arts & crafts, bicycling, boating, fishing, horseback riding, hiking, mural painting, swimming, theme days, talent show, water sports, and more!
Cost: $0 (Funded by the American Academy of Dermatology and its supporters).
Location: Six locations in five states, including Camp Dermadillo in Burton, Texas.
Next Camp: Camp Dermadillo, August 11–16, 2013.
According to Mark Dahl, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist and founder of Camp Discovery, “Children and teens with visible skin conditions, such as epidermolysis bullosa, psoriasis, alopecia areata, or vitiligo, may feel isolated from their peers because they are self-conscious, have been teased, or cannot participate in regular activities due to the limitations of their skin condition. Camp Discovery is a place where all campers have a skin condition, so there’s no need to be embarrassed or self-conscious. We encourage kids to wear shorts, jump in the lake, and get dirty—the things most kids do at camp—because no one is judging each other here. Everyone just wants to have fun.”
(Founded in Austin, Texas; marathonkids.org)
For: All children in kindergarten through fifth grade.
About: Marathon Kids is a nonprofit organization committed to improving the health of children by providing them with the motivation, tools, and support in order to live happier, healthier lifestyles.
Activities: Running or walking 26.2 miles over six months, eating healthy food daily, and learning to grow fruits and veggies.
Cost: $0 (Funded by corporate sponsors, foundations, individual donors, and fundraisers).
Location: At-home participation or via participating elementary schools in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Rio Grande Valley, Los Angeles, Baltimore, or Chicago.
Next Camp: Participation is available year-round.
According to Christine Pollei, executive director of Marathon Kids, “Completing a 26.2-mile marathon is quite an accomplishment at any age, much less for K through fifth graders. The commitment these children make is inspiring to witness, because it’s a crucial step towards a long and healthy life. We have such great supporters in the city of Austin, like Whole Foods Market, who help us make an impact in the community now and long into the future.”
(Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas, DSACT; icanshine.org/parents)
For: Young people at least 8 years old with a disability (other requirements: being able to watlk without an assistive device, being able to side step swiftly to both sides, being able to wear a properly fitted bike helmet at all times when on a bicycle, having a minimum inseam measurement of at least 20 inches when measured from the floor wearing sneakers, does not exceed 220 pounds).
About: iCanShine provides quality learning opportunities in recreational activities for individuals with disabilities. By creating an environment where each person is empowered to maximize his or her individual abilities, everyone can shine!
Activities: Five- to 75-minute sessions teaching riders to learn to balance, pedal, steer, and take off on a bicycle of their own.
Cost: DSACT members, $150; non-members, $200.
Location: North Austin Event Center.
Next Camp: August 12–16, 2013.
According to Gerard Jimenez, DSACT program director, "It's amazing to watch the kids start camp not knowing how to ride a bike and then by the end of the week they were riding solo on two wheels! Absolutely amazing! What a great program!"