JUNIOR WHEELCHAIR SPORTS CAMP

December 15, 2016

13698188_1318009471550534_6714620884788532271_oQuoted “the best week ever” by campers, the Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp celebrated

its 30 year anniversary this summer. Sponsored by Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital and the Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, kids ages 6-19, with a range of physical disabilities, get to experience a free week of adaptive sports and activities every summer at the University of California, Santa Barbara recreation center.

JWSC is five day adaptive sports camp consisting of about eight main sports, three adventure courses, and an activity in the arts, says camp director René Vanhoorn. Campers are exposed to basketball, tennis, soccer, handcycling, kayaking, scuba diving, ropes course, rock climbing and more.

“My favorite is swimming,” says 13-year-old Hannah Martinez, “because it feels like I get to be free and walk on my own as I’m walking in the water.”

The last day of JWSC, campers’ families come for dinner and an awards ceremony, where Martinez won an award for being the best swimmer last year.

Counselors

Camp counselors and sports instructors are all wheelchair users, mentoring campers to live an active, healthy, and more independent lifestyle.

“They are mentors and role models who can help campers problem solve, and have discussions about lifestyle and personal care as well,” says Vanhoorn.

“It means a lot to me, to be able to impact someone’s self-esteem for the better, and relate through difficulties and similarities of being a wheelchair user,” says Cynthia Muñoz, JWSC counselor of 18 years.

“JWSC isn’t just a sports camp,” says Muñoz, “we are teaching self-esteem and coping mechanisms to live life in a healthy way.”

JWSC is transformational and life changing, says Muñoz. Muñoz was a camper the first year of JWSC in 1986 and for another 11 years before becoming a counselor.

“I recall not being exposed to many things,” says Muñoz, “I was shy and intimidated so camp was really an eye-opening experience where I was given the opportunity to engage.”

As a camp counselor, Muñoz acknowledges campers’ fears, while pushing them out of their comfort zones. Counselors and campers cheer each other on and celebrate campers’ successes.

“It’s a neat experience to be apart of,” says Muñoz. “It’s about trying new things and having fun, being a kid, and enjoying life.”

Campers

Kids ride busses to camp each day from Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties, and some even commute from Los Angeles and Bakersfield, says Vanhoorn.

JWSC has the capacity to serve up to 50 kids who have a range of physical disabilities, including cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscle dystrophy, and genetic disorders.

The main qualifications to be eligible for JWSC is the camper must use a wheelchair, maintain attention for at least 15 minutes, be able to grasp an object, and communicate their

needs. If campers are not able to perform the main qualifications, they can come to JWSC with a personal aid, says volunteer coordinator Leslie Lanaan.

Volunteers

Volunteer coordinator since 2012, Lanaan coordinates at least 60 volunteers each summer to make camp the best it can be for the campers.

“Volunteers don’t need to have experience working with people with disabilities,” says Lannan, “but volunteers are people who see ways campers can participate, and who want to be friends with the campers.”

For many of the volunteers, JWSC is a learning experience, says Lanaan.

“The beauty of the volunteers is they are not only there to assist and be an extension of the camper to help them stay engaged, but they also are there for the socialization,” says Vanhoorn.

“The best part is definitely watching campers try a sport for the first time and totally loving it,” says Tara Vanhoorn, volunteer of 10 years, “and the connections I make with all the campers and volunteers; it’s like family.”

JWSC is “the best camp ever” for volunteers as well as for the campers because it is so rewarding, says Tara Vanhoorn. She has become good friends with some of the campers over the years.

“Volunteers take their experiences at JWSC back out into the world and help break down the stigmas that others have about people with disabilities,” says Lanaan.

Resources

While JWSC is mainly recreational, it is classified as a Paralympic sport club and the staff helps to provide resources for kids who show high interest in pursuing athletics, says Vanhoorn. A couple of the sports instructors have been to the Paralympics, says Vanhoorn.

For the kids who want to pursue sports outside of JWSC once a summer, Vanhoorn and staff provides campers and their families with information on the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which grants hand cycles and sports chairs to kids in need, and Athletes Helping Athletes, which also provides hand cycles.

“JWSC always has reverse community integration as well,” says Vanhoorn. EMT’s and the local rescue squad played wheelchair basketball against campers last year, and the UCSB rugby team plays against campers most every summer, says Vanhoorn.

“You have to meet the kids where they are at,” says Muñoz. “Camp is to expose the kids to what is out there.”

“We focus on the strengths of our campers,” says Lanaan. “The wheelchair is just a tool; it doesn’t define a person’s abilities.”

Oftentimes campers’ social circles are limited, says Vanhoorn. After JWSC, campers can know how to adapt to play and engage with other kids who don’t use wheelchairs, rather than not participating, says Vanhoorn. “The ultimate goal is to empower these kids.”

Written by McKensey Richmond (805) 245-9189 mrichmond18@my.whitworth.edu

Sources

  • René Vanhoorn – JWSC camp director (805) 569-8999 x82102 rvanhoor@sbch.org
  • Leslie Lanaan – JWSC volunteer coordinator (805) 689-5809 jwsc.volunteers@gmail.com
  • Cynthia Muñoz – JWSC camp counselor and previous camper (805) 895-6685cyngigglesalot@yahoo.com
  • Tara Vanhoorn – JWSC volunteer (805) 883-8632
  • Hannah Martinez – JWSC camper (minor and can’t share contact information)
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