Key Ingredients to Great Summer Camp

Reprinted from the Spring 2017 Abilities Digest

Contributed by a camp staff alum

Tent among the treesCommunication and teamwork are the key ingredients to a great summer camp experience for Scouts with special needs.

It’s been 30 years since I last worked on summer camp staff, but some of the most vivid memories I have are working with the Scouts and leaders of Troop 191 from the Widener Memorial School in Philadelphia. This troop of amazing men with various disabilities; both young and old, joined us for our first week of camp each season and it was as meaningful an experience for the staff as it was for the campers.

Their Scoutmaster Lou and his assistants would meet with the different program directors at the beginning of the week to tell us who from the troop would be signing up for the merit badges we offered, how we could help them, and explained to us a little bit about their disability/ability. They also told us something about each of them that would help us make an instant connection.

As I look back to that experience, it’s guidance that is still so helpful today. So, as we head in to the summer season, here are some helpful tips to make the most of the summer camp experience:

  • Remember that most of the camp staff members are young adults and likely don’t have much experience working with Scouts with special needs. Take the time to help them understand how they can work together with the Scouts and the leaders to help everyone have fun.
  • Merit badges are tough and can eat up a Scout’s entire week. Because of this, help your Scouts set realistic goals so they can have a balance of working on advancement as well as the experience of learning new skills.
  • Invite the staff to participate in activities in the campsite with your unit. I had such a great time working with the Scouts from Troop 191 in their campsite that I’d often look forward to updates years after I was no longer working on staff in the summer.
  • Try to partner with a unit of able bodied Scouts. The partner unit can help Scouts with mobility impairments travel to the dining hall or around camp. Sometimes we have to be willing to allow help from people who are willing to help but just don’t know how to ask.
  • Celebrate the successes that each Scout will accomplish in camp, whether it’s catching a fish, swimming a lap, or dressing themselves in their tent without assistance. Find something that each Scout has accomplished dur-ing their time at camp and share that news with everyone!
  • Most importantly HAVE FUN!!! Some of the best days of my life have been spent in camp, not just while earn-ing badges, but by doing things I couldn’t do at home in the city, and having fun with my friends. Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that people keep coming back because of the fun they have!

Have a great summer camp experience and, if you have something really cool that you’d like to share in a future issue about your special needs unit achieving success in camp, contact Abilities Digest through We are always looking for great stories that show advancement work for Scouts with special needs.