Posts Tagged ‘summer camp’

Alyssa Pecorino: There’s No Place Like Camp

May 17, 2017

alyssa at deaf camp

 

 

It’s the end of June.  School has let out and it’s time to enjoy the summer.  Mom and Dad are helping me pack my things for two weeks away at summer camp.  I have never been to camp before and I’m excited to try something new, yet I’m nervous about who I’m going to meet.  

Will I be able to understand them?  

Will they understand me?  

Being a 10 year old, oral, mainstreamed, hard of hearing child, I was never exposed to Deaf culture or American Sign Language.  All I had was the knowledge from Linda Bove of Sesame Street’s sign language book and the occasional commercial or blurb on television featuring Deaf people.  

What was this deaf camp going to be like?  I have a hard enough time understanding people who speak, now I’m going to immerse myself into another language and get introduced to a whole new community.  No pressure there, right?

Moreover, how did we get to this point?  

Like most parents, my mother researched what she could (before the internet and Google) and got advice from everyone including her younger sister, who is a highly regarded speech pathologist on Long Island.  My aunt made her point clear: yes, your child is succeeding orally and using what she has in a mainstream setting, but socially she’s falling behind.  You need to send her to a camp for Deaf and hard of hearing children so she can develop her identity and learn all those wonderful things we don’t learn in school.  The education that children get from camp is just as valuable as a formal education setting, if not more.  This is how my parents came across Camp Isola Bella in Salisbury, Connecticut.

Camp Isola Bella is the oldest and longest running camp for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children in the country.  It’s a picturesque island in the middle of Twin Lakes in Salisbury.  This camp beckons Deaf and Hard of hearing children from all over the world to come enjoy their program and develop their identities.  I was fortunate to be one of them from 1988 to 1993.  Little did I know that the nervous child my parents dropped off would grow to be a confident young teenager just from two weeks in the summer.  I went from crying every night to laughing every day and eventually helping new campers acclimate.  My crying wasn’t from how people treated me, but rather from me adjusting to a new environment and preparing to reveal my new identity.  The caterpillar was becoming a butterfly and this is a dramatic change that was bound to shed a few tears.  Besides, as I wrote to my mother that first week, it’s okay to cry because none of the other campers could hear me anyway.  :o)

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Let’s fast forward to June 2000.  I’m now 21 years of age and more excited than ever to go back to camp.  It was the only place I truly felt happy and free to be myself.  This time, I was going back as a camp counselor and newly-certified lifeguard.  Every fiber of my being is anticipating a wonderful summer where I finally get to give back to the camp that gave me my identity and a community to belong to. I couldn’t wait to welcome those first timers to camp, especially those who are in the same shoes that I was in back in 1988.  In my mind I was only going to do this for a summer or two before getting a full-time job.  After all, how could I possibly be able to make my schedule work to be able to work here in the summers? Could I be lucky enough to be able to do this for more than one summer?  

 

Fast forward to today: it’s now my 18th summer at Camp Isola Bella.  I went from being a teacher’s aide at various schools on Long Island to a teacher in both New York and Connecticut to an administrator at the American School for the Deaf.  I worked my way up from counselor to Camp Director and I have no intention of leaving any time soon.  When you find a place that isn’t a job but rather a passion that requires you to pinch yourself to believe you are lucky enough to be working there, you don’t leave.  Seeing new and old campers come every summer to a place where they are free to be themselves, learn the meaning of resilience and develop their identity–that is a place to be cherished.  It’s awesome–which is why our theme this summer is “Believe in *A.W.E.S.O.M.E.!”, which stands for Adventurous World of Experience with Signing Opportunities and Meaningful Education.

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Let me just share one story with you before I wrap up this article.  Many parents are not only concerned about sending their children away from home, but also hesitant that their child will thrive in an environment that doesn’t use technology.  Yes, that’s right, most camps don’t allow phones, iPads, laptops, etc.  We’re one of them.  We had a young teenager come a few years ago who was anxious being away from home for the first time, but not only that, she was upset there was no television or wi-fi.  After a few days, she adjusted and soon forgot about the lack of technology and focused more on being with people and making friends. She came back the next year and admitted she wasn’t looking forward to being without her TV again, but enjoyed the program and that helped a little with the anxiety.  She was adamant that she MUST have TV and looked forward to getting it back when camp was over.  Naturally we all chuckled and quickly we forgot about the technology again.  

Finally, during her third year, I walked down to the waterfront where all the campers were lined up to do the swim test and I gave her a warm hug and welcome back to camp.  I teased her and asked if she missed her TV.  Without skipping a beat, she opened her arms as if to show off the island and waterfront and exclaimed:  “THIS is my television!”  

I immediately welled up and gave her the biggest hug I could muster.  THIS is my reason for working at the greatest place in the world.  There is no place like camp.

If you haven’t already, please consider sending your child to camp.  It doesn’t have to be at Camp Isola Bella, but can be at any one of the many camps for Deaf and hard of hearing children around the country.  As I mentioned above, it’s an invaluable experience for any child, but more so for those of us in the Deaf and hard of hearing community.

Alyssa Pecorino, M.S.

Questions about sending your child to camp? You can reach me at Alyssa.Pecorino@asd-1817.org

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