"He's just so happy. This is his little place."

When it came to dropping their son off at Camp ASCCA for the first time, Donna and Dean Barten were hesitant because it would be the first time their son, Jacob, had been away from them for five days. The family was first introduced to Camp ASCCA at a weekend camp through Making Connections, and despite the motivating words from family and friends, it still was not easy for the family dropping him off for the first time. Donna said, “There were tears everywhere. I was crying. My husband who was a 22-year Army veteran was squalling. Jacob was throwing a fit.” However, their angst and reservations were comforted when they arrived at Camp, and they met their son’s first counselor, James, and Outdoor Adventure Director Amber Cotney.

Jacob B 2011

Amber reassured Donna that everything would be fine and that Jacob would not be able to fully get the ASCCA experience until Mom and Dad left. “You can’t stick around. You just need to go and call us in a little while,” Amber stated. The family then headed out through the ASCCA gates, but before they even reached Highway 280, Jacob’s dad, Dean, asked Donna to call to make sure the first few minutes had gone smoothly. “And he was just fine,” said Donna. Jacob loved his first summer at Camp ASCCA so much that when it was time for his second summer, he told his parents goodbye and to go home before he had even gotten out of the car.

Camp is often the place where campers can come to let loose and be true to themselves with no concern for what family or friends may think, and many times, they are almost a different person in the camp environment. The freedom that Camp offers is incomparable to any other place of its kind.

Jacob and his counselor

Jacob is a teenage boy with autism and has a love for the game of basketball and a caring heart for his friends. The Bartens have been bringing Jacob to camp since that first summer several years ago, and this summer will be Jacob’s eighth summer at Camp ASCCA. Many times, the opportunities at camp allow campers to experience a new life away from parents and away from the daily distractions of a “normal” day. When asked how Jacob had grown over the years, Donna stated, “Oh my gosh. Tremendously. Tremendously. I love that he has a certain amount of independence. He’s better behaved and just has more autonomy.”

Summer camps, especially ones like Camp ASCCA, are often hard for parents to send their children to because it is hard to think that people who barely know your child can give him or her the support and care that they need. These were genuine concerns for the Barten family in 2010, but now, “I never worry for a second that there are any issues with his safety or security… We’ve been coming every year since,” said Donna. The Camp ASCCA staff is professionally trained each year to prepare for campers and families that will attend in the summer, and parents can confidently know that great care, safety, and FUN are the biggest priorities at Camp.

If Donna had the chance to meet every parent that is considering to send their children to Camp ASCCA, she would say, “Do it. Regardless of your hesitations. It’s going to be hard. It will be just as hard on you as it would be them. Just do it and you will not regret it.” She refers to herself as a Camp ASCCA “believer” and sees the most joy in her son when he is here.

It is often hard for campers, staff, and parents to explain to the outside world what Camp ASCCA means to so many people because it is not always an easy concept for people to grasp. Camp is a place where individuals with disabilities are surrounded by people just like them and can be their unique selves with no questions and zero judgment. From the zip line to tubing on Lake Martin, every activity at ASCCA is fully accessible for anyone who braves the challenge.

Camp is a place of peace, a place of fun, and a place of possibilities for anyone with any type of disability, and once the first summer is complete, the countdown and anticipation begins for the return next summer. With a smile on her face Donna shared the meaning of this place to her son and why they come back each year, “He’s happy. He’s just so happy. This is his little place. There are so few places in the world for these kids that is theirs. That just gives them joy and peace, and I think everything else. He is truly peaceful here.”