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31 Jan, Tuesday
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Montreal Families

A sleepover camp for families with special needs children

Julie Kristof’s 10-year-old son loves sleep-away camp and has been going for a number of years. She wanted her younger daughter to have a similar experience but had trouble finding a camp that would accommodate Miriam’s special needs.

“One of my big worries was that [Miriam] would never have the opportunity to experience a tight-knit community feeling and being in a cabin,” said Kristof, whose daughter has familial dysautonomia, a neurological condition that affects the body’s ability to control heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration and digestion.

But last year, she spotted a flyer advertising a new program at the Y Country Camp in the Laurentians that was geared to families who have kids with special needs. The four-day camp offers children with developmental disorders, like autism and down syndrome, the opportunity to enjoy some camp activities with peers and others with their parents and siblings.

Director Sid Milech said that although predominantly Jewish, the Y Country Camp is open to people of all faiths. Families meet with coordinators to assess their child’s specific needs. Campers are paired with a specially trained buddy who supervises them as they rock climb, go on nature hikes, play tennis, swim, canoe etc.

“There are times during the day when the parents, the special needs campers, and their siblings all do separate activities,” Milech said. “Then the rest of the afternoon everyone comes together.” In the evening, families sing songs, play instruments and chat around a cozy bonfire.

Kristof said she enjoyed being with other parents of kids with special needs. “The most touching part was that there was no judgment,” she said. “We were all families who have experienced trauma in different ways and who were dealing with different illnesses and issues. But everyone was accepted for who they were.”

A market researcher who is also involved in her community, Kristof is chairing a cycling fundraiser for the special needs department at the YM-YWHA. Part of the proceeds will help other kids go to camp. For more information about the fundraiser, call 514.737.6551 ext. 228 or visit cycle.ymywha.com

This year, the Special Needs Family Camp will take place from Aug. 13-16.

For more information, call 514-737-6551 ext.267 and ycountrycamp.com.

Mimi & Alex go swimming                       Murray Yazer, Miriam, David Ceseau, Jade & her shadow

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