Staying in line, standing still, talking in inside voices — these are all behaviors most parents take for granted in their children. But when you're the parent of a child with Down's Syndrome, Aspberger's or Autism, it can be a different story.
"Parents who have children with behavior challenges have to manage their kids' behavior differently," said Lori Villarreal, director of programs for the Metropolitan Dallas YMCA.
What's more, adds Villarreal is that these families often spend their discretionary income on medical expenses — therapy and medication — which doesn't leave time or money left over for extra activities and family bonding.
The YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas is committed to serving people with all needs so Villarreal was inspired to host a family retreat weekend at YMCA's Camp Grady Spruce located on Possum Kingdom Lake.
"We wanted to offer a getaway, a community-building opportunity, a chance to look at each other in the eyeballs and to know others get it. A place to just be," said Villarreal. "These parents are always 'on' but at camp it's different. Parents don't have to explain their child's behavior. Even if it's just for a weekend, it's refreshing."
Through fundraising efforts, the YMCA is able to offer this weekend camp — which takes place at the YMCA's Camp Grady Spruce — each year at no cost to the families involved. They come from all over Texas to experience the all-American past time of camping: canoeing, fishing, swimming, camp fires and more. Perhaps most importantly, points out Villarreal, is that they come to meet other families who are working through the same obstacles and whose children have the opportunity to meet someone just like them.
"We take for granted the sense of welcome we have when our children don't work through behavior challenges," said Villarreal. "We don't have to explain our children's behavior — and for this weekend, these families we serve don't have to either. For them that's very refreshing."
In 2009, the programs' inaugural year, the camp was immediately a hit. Villarreal and her staff made an important observation that has allowed improvements for the families' experience — the distractions of eating meals in the typical camp dining hall were too much for some kids. So Villarreal and the camp staff, have taken meal time and turned it into picnic time, offering every child and their siblings a special lunchbox to enjoy their meals at their own pace outdoors with notably less stimulation than in the cafeteria. Provided through an in-kind donation from 4imprint®'s one by one® Program, the lunchboxes have become a hit.
"The lunchboxes, as it turns out, have also become a great prize for all the kids and give them something special to call their own," shares Villarreal. "The lunchboxes make the kids feel special. It says that someone thought about them, that someone out there is willing to provide resources."
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