This past August, St. Paul’s in Chatham hosted its second annual “It’s My Turn” day camp for children with autism. In a sign of the camp’s impact, last summer’s campers returned and several new campers joined the fun.
The issue of autism is near and dear to heart of St. Paul’s rector, the Rev. Mary Davis, as she has two sons who are on the Autism spectrum. She decided to launch the camp following a Good Friday service when a young parishioner with autism grew frustrated that he was not being given a chance to extinguish the candles. “Out of frustration he cried, ‘when is it going to be my turn???’, and those words stayed with me for months,” said Davis. “Because of that experience, I felt St. Paul’s needed to do something for children with autism and that something became ‘It’s My Turn.’
“We have three goals for ‘It’s My Turn’ day camp. First, we want the children to know that they are children of God, expressed through their welcome and the love they receive here at St. Paul’s. Second, we want to create an environment where the children are celebrated for who they are. Children with autism face the everyday challenge of being a square peg that society tries to cram into a round hole. In our day camp, we create a world where all our campers ‘fit.’ Third, we want to offer parents some respite. Being a parent of an autistic child can be very draining, both emotionally and physically. It can also be isolating. ‘It’s My Turn’ creates a supportive and accepting community.”
For the past two years, St. Paul’s partnered with Cross Roads Camp counselors, who adapted their day camp programing for “It’s My Turn.” Anthony Briggs, Executive Director of Cross Roads Camp and Retreat Center said, “It was a pleasure to work with St. Paul’s and the ‘It’s My Turn’ campers. Our counselors had a blast and unanimously agreed they received far more than they gave. It was their favorite week of the summer!”
For Davis, a highlight of the camp occurred one day when the campers needed to walk across the church parking lot to get to the playground. “Our camp volunteers strategized on the best and the safest way to get our children (especially our “runners”!) across the parking lot and into the fenced-in playground,” she said. “We decided to use a long blue rope, with loops tied into it, and required every child to hold on to the loop as we walked. If the hand wasn’t on the loop, the rope didn’t move. As an added measure of security, we also ever-so-gently looped the blue rope around the waist of some of our kids who might run off. We made quite a scene, this camp of ours; with our campers along the blue rope, surrounded by a wall of volunteers. The campers looked like celebrities making their way through a sea of paparazzi! And believe me, all eyes and ears – moms, babysitters, children, and patrons of the library next door - were on us as we made our way into the lot. But we were “loud and proud,” and tethered together, not only by that rope, but by God’s love for all of us.”
St. Paul’s plans to host the third annual “It’s My Turn” camp next summer. Additionally, other churches have used the “It’s My Turn” model and curriculum to host their own camps. “It’s my hope that more and more churches will take up the “It’s My Turn” camp and minister to the children and families with autism,” said Davis.
If you or your church is interested in learning more about “It’s My Turn” day camp for children on the autism spectrum, please contact the Rev. Mary Davis email@example.com.