Putting the Pieces Together: How SCHOLARS Help Kinney Campers Succeed

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

by Jennifer Nessel '19

This summer, campers at SJU’s Camp Kinney, the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support’s accredited camp for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, can look forward to interacting with therapy dogs, visits from the Philadelphia Fire Department and animals from the Philadelphia Zoo, a sensory friendly concert performed by Philadelphia Orchestra members, and an up-close and personal experience with the Philly Phanatic.

Hosting campers who range from ages three to 30, the camp, now in its eighth year, will run June 26-July 27 and will give its approximately 100 participants an opportunity to improve social skills and independence as they explore new experiences.

“It’s so much fun to meet kids that are my age and know that I’m not the only one with autism in the world,” says camper Samuel LaCoste, 16.

While participants engage in recreational activities like swimming, playing games and learning to cook, SJU’s Kinney SCHOLARS (Students Committed to Helping Others Learn about Autism Research and Support) are hard at work making sure everything runs smoothly. SCHOLARS are SJU undergraduate students who provide support to campers (and to the Center’s learners in its youth, adult and transitional programs throughout the academic year) as 1:1 or 2:1 staff members. They are also the camp's lead teachers.

“Many times, people with autism crave social engagement, but it can be very challenging to interact with others on their own,” says Ryan Hammond ’13 (MBA), executive director of the Kinney Center. “Camp Kinney offers campers the opportunity to meet and interact with others in the safe, structured environment the Kinney SCHOLARS help to create.”

Before working directly with individuals with autism, SCHOLARS, who often major in autism studies, psychology and elementary and special education at SJU, engage in intensive trainings and earn certifications in CPR, First Aid, Epi-Pen and CPI (Crisis Prevention Intervention). Trainings and certifications are completed on campus in the two weeks prior to the start of Camp Kinney and are renewed annually.

"The certifications help us [as future professionals] to be prepared for any situation that we may encounter in the autism field,” says Natalie Baker ’18 of Baltimore, Maryland, an elementary and special education major who is also pursuing a minor in autism behavioral studies.

“Camp Kinney and the SCHOLARS aim to provide an environment where each camper can grow to be his or her most independent selves,” adds Hammond.

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