Year 14 was unlike any other for Camp Able. Given the limitations of the COVID-19 world we live in, it would have been easy for the organizers to fixate on what they couldn’t do. However, that would go against everything Camp Able stands for. Instead, they decided to concentrate on what they could do and took the popular camp for people with diverse abilities online.
“Just a couple of months before camp, we had to decide whether we were going to cancel this year or whether we were going to do something,” said Joshua Baudin, who ran this year’s camp along with Camp Director Kelly Bennett. “We decided to do something. Having a large team made it pretty simple because we all have areas of strength. So we just stepped into those areas of strength and adapted the program.
“Everybody was able to adapt. Things had been done a certain way for 13 years. This year we had to say, ‘No, we can’t do it that way.’ Change is difficult for the staff, but change is really difficult for some of our campers. The ability for us to change and to go with the flow was amazing. Just to be able to say ‘Yes’ to it, and give it a try, was very good.”
The results were spectacular.
“The campers were so grateful to have that experience,” Baudin said. “So many of our folks are either immunocompromised or their families are somehow compromised. So, they’re not able to get out of their homes. This experience provided something that was different. It was a little vacation, even though they were at home. It was a time to be with their friends and forget a little bit about what’s happening in the world. Just to be happy and joyful. So they were excited for that.”
The virtual camp is also fulfilling for the Camp Able staff.
“The staff,” Baudin continued, “is mostly late high school or college kids. The counselors were so excited to see their campers and to see each other. Some of our counselors are local and some come from Mississippi and Chicago. What really excites me is that it enables the counselors to learn to overcome differences and to experience something they wouldn’t normally experience.
“To be in situations they wouldn’t normally be in. Often times, people come to get Bright Futures hours or volunteer hours or whatever it is that they need. They have a motive, but then they return the next year because they’ve fallen in love with camp. Or they’ve fallen in love with the campers. Or they’ve fallen in love with the spirit of the camp. Camp Able is like this little family. It was different this year, but to have the opportunity to be in each other’s company for four days—virtually—was just uplifting to everybody.”
Normally, Camp Able is jampacked with a number of activities, including water sports, island excursions, a bicycle tour, music, games, gymnastics, dance, arts and crafts and a talent show. With this year’s camp going online, things had to be modified.
“If we were to be there in person,” Baudin said, “we’d gather in the morning and have breakfast and the campers and staff would go to an activity for the day and come back to the campus and have another activity after lunch, then close out with a session at night time. We modified that to a group program followed by two activity times, followed by a closing session every day. So it was great.
“A lot of the activities were just modifications of what we would do in person. We’d go to yoga at Kerri Lampos‘ studio—Revival Yoga. She just did it online for us through Zoom. We did a baking class online through Zoom. Somebody had a farm, so we did a virtual tour of the farm. People were able to interact with the farm owner and talk about the animals that were there. There was a cheer session where people could learn cheer and tumbling skills. There was a craft class. It was a blast.”
Camp Able was started by Kyle Bennett, Kelly’s father. The camp has shown steady growth; in fact, it has outgrown its former home at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, where Kyle Bennett was a priest.
“This year, we only invited campers who have been here before,” Baudin stated. “We maxed out at St. Mark’s at 60 campers. Along will all of our staff, we have about 200 people on campus. With 200 hundred people on that small campus—we outgrew it, being an overnight camp in that small church.
“This year, we had 30 of those 60 who were able to be with us. So, we had about half of the usual campers. The other campers weren’t able to adapt to our model, because of their needs.”
It takes a number of community members to make Camp Able a success.
“There’s a team of people working together to represent a variety of organizations to make it happen,” said Baudin. “Camp Able always was a community effort, now we’re just totally embracing that. The team that organized it this year was composed of people from Wesley United Methodist Church, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, the San Marco Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church. Then we had somebody from the school board. We’re really embracing the community nature of Camp Able. Wesley is kind of spearheading it right now, but it’s really a community effort. Wesley’s kind of the host for the next few years.”
The good news is that Camp Able has found a larger home for future camps. In fact, the camp was supposed to be in its new home this year—before COVID-19 became a factor.
“Next year, we’re going to be housed at Marco Island Charter Middle School,” Baudin said. “That partnership, I hope, will continue in years to come. We’re trying to look at facilities and programs and see if we can help the camp endure and grow. Being at the middle school we have more access to showers; we have more access to sleeping facilities. Better medical facilities; our nurses were in a little closet. The nursing room in the middle school has three beds in it. That’s really great. That’s going to enable us to grow. It’s so exciting to see what’s going to happen with the future camps on Marco.”
With so much community involvement, Baudin sees nothing but future success for Camp Able.
“When the whole Camp Able is all about community, when the goal is so pure, and the intentions are just to be with one another, it’s hard to fail,” he enthused.
Baudin was concerned that the virtual camp may not provide the opportunities for the kind of bonding the in-person camps provide. He was happy to find that wasn’t the case at all.
“For this year, we weren’t able to meet in person—which is sad. But we were able to connect in a new way. I think it was great. The activities are the vehicle that enables the connections. So the connections were made, and people were able to see each other. It wasn’t an in-person thing. We weren’t able to give each other hugs or sit at the beach and talk late at night.
“I was worried that there wasn’t going to be the opportunity for some of those deeper moments of personal sharing or reflection,” Baudin admitted. “Because some of our people come from group homes or other situations where they don’t have the opportunity to talk about their feelings that much or their situation. I was so happy at the end of the second day when some of those deeper conversations started to happen.”
To learn more about Camp Able, go to campable.org or search Camp Able on Facebook.