This testimonial was submitted in November 2014 by the Mother and Step-Father of a long-time SOAR camper. They saw the difference that SOAR made in their son’s life and wanted to help provide meaningful SOAR adventures for other kids like Trevor. We hope you will connect with their story and join other families in making a gift to the SOAR Scholarship Fund this giving season.
Six years ago, my son Trevor embarked on his first SOAR adventure. To say he was leary of this new/unknown experience is an understatement. But I was hopeful that SOAR would be our Obi-Wan. For years we supported, nurtured, and cheered for Trevor while he road the ADHD rollercoaster. But we had reached an impasse. Trevor was coming home from school, defeated. His peers had discovered Trevor’s uniqueness and were beginning to make fun of him/bully him. As a parent, you will do anything and everything to protect your child. You teach them to keep their chin up and know that they are loved, but no matter what is taught at home, school is still a struggle. Let’s face it, kids can be mean, and it was taking a toll on Trevor. I was desperate to find a program that shared my beliefs. A place that would show Trevor that he is not his disability. So I went to the internet and found SOAR. I remember reading the description and parent comments and thinking that this was it! SOAR is our Obi-Wan! Then I looked at the price and thought there is no way! The SOAR price tag can be staggering, but what cost is too much when it comes to helping our children?
I weighed my options, continue to see my son struggle or give SOAR a try. So we did it! Trevor was signed up for his first 12 day backpacking adventure and boy was he mad! “Why do I have to do this?” “Why are you sending me away?” I tried to explain to him what we were doing and why, but it did not matter. So on June 12th of 2009 we hopped in the car and drove from Milwaukee WI to SOAR’s Balsam Base Camp. The minute we arrived we were greeted by SOAR’s fantastic staff. They made us feel welcome and secure. I was assured that my son would be in good hands. And boy were we right! I returned 12 days later to find my son grinning ear to ear. He was happy, healthy and just a tad bit stinky 🙂 I remember reading SOAR’s Achievement Plan (sic) for Trevor and starting to tear-up. The things they wrote about my son were unbelievable. SOAR saw a part of Trevor that we have never seen. I was so excited to see how Trevor would take his new found strength and discovery into the new school year. I was even more excited to sign him up for the following summer. Trevor had told me, “no Mom, I’m not sure that I want to go back.” But by October he was ready. After 3 years of hearing “no I don’t want to go”, and then “Mom I will go to SOAR”.I asked why he keeps changing his mind. Trevor told me, “because Mom, the people at SOAR get me. At SOAR the kids are all the same. We all have a disability and its what makes us awesome.” It was at this moment that I realized what a positive impact SOAR has been on my son’s life.
I’ve had other people tell me that Trevor is so sure of himself and willing to take on new challenges. My son is smiling and laughing more, he no longer believes that he is his disability. SOAR did this for Trevor. The camp staff and campers were able to show Trevor everything we had told him. Talk about positive reinforcement! I jokingly told people that SOAR needed to be our Obi-Wan, our only hope. But it turned out to be true. We desperately hoped to find a place like SOAR and we did. To say thank you SOAR, does not seem like enough. We want to share the SOAR experience with other children like Trevor. So while we cant afford to send another child to camp, hopefully our donation can help. Thank you to everyone at SOAR that has touched Trevor’s life! You’ve made a difference!! Looking forward to year 6-Post Grad Adventure!
It is impossible to grow inside of your comfort zone. As parents and adults, and it easy for us to tell this to our children when encouraging them to try something new, but do we take it to heart ourselves?
On the first day of camp, nearly all of our campers are nervous, some much more than others. Even before camp, we talk to parents who say, “my child refuses to go” and “I don’t know how we’re going to get him out of the car.” And that has happened, coaxing kids out of the car. While most families feel that they are alone in these anxieties, they are not! It is natural to feel nervous about something you have never done before, especially if you struggle with anxiety or have had negative experiences in the past. If you asked parents to go to camp hours away from home, for 12 days, with other adults they didn’t know, they would be nervous too!
But there are so many opportunities to grow when you step out of your comfort zone. It is hard to see this when you have immediately crossed the “zone” boundary and all you want to do is step back in, but after some time and processing (which we try to do with each of our campers), you can really begin to see how far you’ve come.
This year was my first summer at SOAR. As a notorious worrier even in adulthood, I could sympathize with all of the campers who were feeling nervous on day one. If I were in that situation 10 years ago, I would have been the exact same way. I have spent most of my young life doing things I know I am good at, trying very few new things, and enjoying the comforts of “my zone”. As you can imagine, this gets boring and unfulfilling, so with the start of the new year (2015), I decided I was going to try some new things. One of those things was a 8 week pottery class. Aside from play dough, I have never crafted anything functional with my hands. I was nervous the first night, but I just kept telling myself “how hard can it be?” Well, it was hard! I didn’t want to go back. My immediate thoughts were, “I’m not good at this”, “My teacher must think I’m stupid”, and “I should just give up now instead of trying and failing later.”
Have you heard these thoughts before from your child?
As you probably guessed and since I am writing this blog post, I stuck with it. As the weeks went by, I actually got the hang of it! Now, I’m kind of “good”, for a beginner, and I love it! I started applying my teacher’s feedback instead of just letting it make me upset. He praised the things I did well and offered constructive feedback to help me improve. I noticed my confidence building week by week, and about half way through, I thought, “This is how our campers feel.” They come to SOAR feeling pretty uncomfortable and nervous about what they next 12-26 days will hold, but as they try new activities they’ve never done before and start to realize that they can succeed, they’re confidence skyrockets and their behavior improves. It is now so clear to me why.
It is an amazing feeling to step out of your comfort zone and experience success! These experiences make it so much easier to try other new things and take what you’ve learned and apply it to other areas, which is what we hope for each of our campers! If your child is feeling nervous about the possibility of overnight camp, let them know that these feelings are okay! We all feel nervous about things that are unfamiliar to us, even Mom and Dad, but in order to truly grow, we must step out!
As in the poem by Dr. John Celes, “Nature is the best teacher we know.” It’s true. Nature can teach us more about ourselves than any classroom. When a camper looks over a mountain to an amazing scene of water and beauty below, it is surely stunning and reminds us that we’re a part of something much bigger than ourselves. It fosters a sense of humbleness and humility that just isn’t taught in schools (though they may try to!) Seeing a deer eating grass in a clearing can instill a sense of kindness and nurturing of other creatures. There are so many ways that nature can teach us, and these being just a few! With the guiding hand of staff and camp directors, kids can really gain a lot from this bountiful resource.
9. They get to channel their energy into something fun and active.
As a parent of a child with AD/HD, you may know that it can be difficult to find good activities for your son or daughter. At camp there is a plethora of activities for them to channel their energy into! Whether it’s going on a long hike, snorkeling in the Caribbean or learning to take care of a llama, there are a ton of things that we do to get kids active in positive ways!
8. Organizational Skills.
You may or may not know this, but organization is key to being outdoors, just as it is back home. This is something that’s integral to what we teach at SOAR. We have short, comprehensible lists for kids to follow that we call “the essentials,” we help kids organize the important things in day-packs and the bigger stuff in their regular backpack, and we help kids budget their spending money to make smart decisions rather than impulsive ones. For kids with AD/HD, I’m sure you can agree that these are very useful skills that are transferable to real life!
7. There are things you learn outside the classroom and home.
Apart from obvious things like rock climbing, surfing and scuba diving, there are a lot of things that kids can learn at SOAR that they just don’t learn at school and home. Independence, responsibility, organization and so much more.
6. Fosters independence.
Away from parents and teachers, in the “outside” world, kids learn how to become more independent. At home this can translate into brushing their teeth without being reminded, cleaning their rooms, offering to cook something we foster at SOAR. At school this can turn into more focused attention, homework being turned in on time and class participation. Independence is a necessary skill for adulthood, and that’s something we foster at SOAR. Being away from the family and school for a period of time really helps develop this skill.
5. Learning responsibility.
At SOAR, kids are responsible for many things. Their belongings, their feelings, the adventure, and in some cases their medication. One of the strategies we use for kids who aren’t wanting to take their medication is to put the responsibility in the kids’ hands. We’ll say “okay, we won’t bother you until 5pm about your medication, and if you haven’t taken it by then we won’t get to go fishing today,” or something similar. This counter-intuitive method actually works a majority of the time! When giving kids responsibility, they can do amazing things.
4. Beautiful friendships.
Being on an epic adventure with 8 strangers for 10-26 days can really bring kids closer together. The friendships that the kids at SOAR make can last a lifetime, and many of them do. We’ve been around for nearly 40 years, and some of the original kids in our early years are still friends to this day. Watch this video from SOAR Director John Willson about Danny and a friend who comforted him when he was feeling homesick.
3. Understanding things about themselves they never knew.
When the course is complete, we have kids fill out an evaluation, which includes things like “which course would you like to try next time?” and “how was your staff’s performance?” In addition to questions like that, we ask a very important question: “What did you learn about yourself?” The answers to this question are astounding! Kids say a variety of things, from simply “a lot,” to “I learned that I’m epic and AWESOME!” to more specific things like “I learned that I’m a good rock climber,” or “I learned that I like to snorkel.” The most touching ones however, read “I learned how to make friends more easily,” or “I learned to be more confident.” It’s truly remarkable to read all of these amazing things that kids learn in our programs.
2. Kids become more confident.
That leads us to number 2 in the countdown. Kids become more confident in a summer program. Through all of our courses, kids will learn this major piece. Whether it’s on the High Ropes Course at our Balsam Base in North Carolina, catching humongous fish at our Florida location, or riding a horse in Wyoming, kids learn a lot of great skills that all boil down to this. When they get home they transfer their confidence into their schoolwork, the house chores, their intelligence, their friendships and so much more.
1. A great experience that kids will remember for the rest of their lives.
This one really speaks for itself. Summer adventures can be an unforgettable memory that will stay with your child for years and years to come.
SOAR is an authorized permittee of the National Park Service and the National Forest Service. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in its programs on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.