Introducing the Autism Friendly Family Camp at Aldersgate Camp & Retreat Center
The Rev. Emily Huyge, pastor at Geneva First United Methodist Church, and her family are deeply connected to the summer camp experience in the Upper New York (UNY) Conference. She and her husband, Dana, met each other as staff at Casowasco Camp & Retreat Center. Her 8-year-old daughter goes to camp at Casowasco and loves it.
Earlier this year when Pastor Emily registered Sarah for summer camp at Casowasco, her 6-year-old son, Jacob, said, “I want to go to camp too!”
Pastor Emily, with sadness, had to turn Jacob down. Jacob has autism and Pastor Emily knew that at this time, Casowasco might not be able to meet his needs.
Then, a light bulb clicked—Pastor Emily thought to herself, “I wonder if the Conference can offer a camp that is specifically autism-friendly? The Center for Disease Control says that one in every 44 children has an autism spectrum disorder. Surely, there are other children in the Conference have it and would love to experience camp.”
Pastor Emily went to the Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding, the UNY Director of Connectional Ministries and Assistant to the Bishop, with her idea.
She said, “I knew that if Bill didn’t know how to bring this idea to fruition, he would know who could help make this happen.”
Rev. Gottchalk-Fielding told Pastor Emily that Aldersgate Camp & Retreat Center has been thinking of offering a camp to the autism community for years. He connected Pastor Emily with Pam Harris, UNY Consultant for Camp & Retreat Ministries and Ben Mudge, the Site Director at Aldersgate.
After many Zoom meetings between Pam, Ben, and Pastor Emily, Aldersgate is excited to offer Autism Friendly Family Camp.
This camp is a three-night experience for the whole family to participate together in all the fun camp has to offer. Children and adults with autism will have an opportunity to come together and experience the joys of camp. There is no age requirement. Similarly, their families will have the opportunity to join with others who also love and support a neurodivergent family member. Aldersgate's program offerings include swimming, boating, crafts, and outdoor games. All will be available in a sensory conscious setting.
August 21 - 24
Rates are $65 per person per night.
Pam said that Aldersgate is a helpful setting for people with autism, in its peacefulness and simplicity. She said, “So many people who come to Aldersgate call it a place of great peace. There is a lot of space to move in large playing fields. There is consistency in the cabins—they are all simple and are set up exactly the same. The waterfront is small and not overwhelming. It is a very simple site that would not likely provoke sensory overload.”
Pastor Emily explained that the camp will be structured, consistent, and predictable. For example, the worship service will be structured the same each time, perhaps three songs, a Bible verse, a message, and a final song. But the camp will also be flexible. There is no requirement to attend everything on the schedule.
Mealtimes will be offered outdoors as opposed to a loud cafeteria.
Pastor Emily said, “Aldersgate is already a sensory-gentle place, so this camp is going to work out well.”
Pastor Emily and her husband will be attending with their four children.
Rev. Gottschalk-Fielding said, “This is a wonderful example of how our camp program seeks to respond to the needs of everyone in our church family.”
Click here to register your family for this camp.
Questions and registration can be directed to Jill at Aldersgate; her email is email@example.com.