Camp Wannagoagain is a camp like any other. Yet it is not. For one thing, there are lots more counselors. And many of the campers have a "counselor" with them the length of the camp day.
That's because the campers at Camp Wannagoagain all have autism, a disability that can affect social and intellectual development. The organizers of the camp are acutely aware of their campers needs – after all, it's run by The Autism Project, a Johnston-based nonprofit dedicated to providing support to people with autism and families.
"When we first started, there weren't any camps," said Autism Project's executive director Joanne Quinn. "I think what makes us different, we take everybody. We really work with the parents – tell us exactly what's going on and we staff for it and we prepare for it. So, if somebody will perhaps need two-on-one, we have two seasoned people ready for him or her when he gets off the bus."
Camp director Lisa McKay, of North Kingstown, has been in charge for two years, after helping out for several years before that. McKay is an adaptive physical education teacher for East Greenwich, working with children with special needs. She's also the head coach of North Kingstown Special Olympics. You could say this job is in her wheelhouse.
Still, loads of preparation goes in to the two weeks of camp offered by the Autism Project. Staff members receive bags of specially designed materials for each individual camper. And each day was designed with the utmost flexibility in mind. If a student is having a touch time, staff members will get on their walkie talkies and troubleshoot, or shift staff.
It's all about offering children experiences they may not get at home. Maybe, said Quinn, when they go back home, they'll be able to interact that much better with family members and peers.