It’s an American coming-of-age tradition: summer sleep-away camp with friends. 20-year-0ld Pete Roll got his chance to soak in all that’s great about summer at Camp PALS.
“It is VERY fun! I got to stay in the OSU dorms like Em and Dan (his sister and brother),” Pete Roll explains. He’s attended the camp every summer for the past three years.
Camp PALS is a week-long overnight camp hosted at 11 universities across the country for young adults with Down syndrome (age 12-30) and their typical peers. PALS mission is to create an inclusive experience where these young adults grow in independence, and build transformative friendships.
Pete attended camp PALS on the Ohio State University campus. As seen in the video above, he enjoyed bike tours, karaoke, and showing off his dance moves.
The Columbus, Ohio Camp PALS Logistical Director, Ricky Price, says camp PALS is more than just a fun time: “Without directly working on appropriate social skills, we are teaching them through inclusion. When Pete arrived at camp 3 years ago he was a shy kid who knew very few people. This year he won the ‘biggest smile award,’ is eager to know everyone, and helped comfort a first-time camper who was upset.”
This is the first time away from home for many of the campers. Price says they help new campers feel welcome with a heart-warming arrival ceremony, which includes 20 new friends welcoming the campers with signs of encouragement, hugs, and music. “It’s an overwhelming experience of acceptance,” Price describes.
The week long activities are different depending on your location. In Columbus this summer, campers enjoyed a Disney movie theme.
“We rented out an entire movie theater and watched Moana. Pete had the biggest smile on his face the entire time the movie played. He rocked at singing Moana’s theme song “How Far I’ll Go” at karaoke night. It takes a lot of courage to get up and sing in front of people. Pete has definitely come far!” Price says.
“My favorite part is hanging out with the COOL counselors like Ricky,” Pete explains. Campers with Down syndrome are matched up with a same-age typical peer who shares the same interests or hobbies.
Part of the week’s activities includes PALS Congratulations project. Campers write letters of Congratulations to expecting or new parents of children with Down syndrome. The letters offer new parents an intimate and thought-provoking look at the beautiful lives of young adults with Down syndrome.
The camp experience is invaluable for everyone involved.
“I’ve worked for the PALS program for 8 years. I had a brother with a disability and that’s how I got involved. I started in high school and I wasn’t the most social and outgoing person. Camp PALS was the first time I made a true connection to my own peers. I still stay in touch with my first campers (typical and those with a disability),” Price describes.
He says the message of inclusion and acceptance is seen by the community at-large too. “People will stop us on the street and ask us who we are and what are we doing. We’re showing them that it’s normal to include people with intellectual disabilities in everyday life,” Price explains.
The end of the week includes an inclusive closing ceremony, where campers, friends, family and community members are invited to learn and talk about campers’ experiences. Price says some of the most moving speeches are from parents who share their gratitude and trust at allowing their child to be away from home for the first time. “There’s not a dry eye in the building,” Price says.
“I think Pete loves that he can feel like everyone else! All the campers have the same diagnosis, so he isn’t different. He also loves that he’s away from home on a college campus in an actual dorm. It’s an amazing experience!” says Pete’s mom, Chris Roll.
To find out more about information and where you can attend Camp PALS visit their website here.
PALS opens their program to any individual with Down syndrome ages 12-30, and their typical peers ages 16-30. The only requirements are an openness to the camp experience, an ability to attend to their private hygiene, and endurance to attend to a week of scheduled activities.
Tuition for the camp is $1400, and covers food, housing, supplies and activities for the camper and typical peer volunteer. Reduced tuition and financial aid is available for those that cannot afford the cost of the camp. The PALS Program covered 100% of the financial aid requests made last year.
Price says bringing camp to your local university is as easy as having a sizable population of individuals with Down syndrome and community interest. The PALS program asks for a donation from local organizations to start the program. This shows a commitment and desire to bring the program to your area. Once the there’s an interest, PALS creates a relationship with the local university and recruits high schoolers and college-aged volunteers.