“They’re empowered to take those leaps and shatter perceived limitations,” said Jason Mueller, with Riley Children’s Foundation. “The goals they accomplish lead to a higher self-confidence.”
Camp staffers hold a challenge day during each camp session. Campers are encouraged to tackle a task they’ve always wanted to try. Many of them choose things they thought they couldn’t do.
Some choose to complete an art project or cook dinner. Some climb the 40-foot climbing tower or “cardiac hill.”
One camper chose to hold his own Indy 500. He rode 500 laps in an adapted bike.
“There’s a lot of smiles that day,” Mueller said. “There’s a great team atmosphere.”
And the staff-to-camper ratio never exceeds one-to-three. Cassidy’s group, made up of campers with the most severe disabilities, gets one-on-one attention. There’s also trained medical staff available 24 hours a day since the camp is an extension of Riley Hospital.
That’s important to Warner. She wouldn’t have sent Cassidy to camp that first year without the medical staff there.
“That’s the first time we let her go anywhere without a family member,” Warner said.
That time away from family was something Cassidy needed, she said. It was good to give her a break from her 5-year-old brother. And for once she didn’t have to worry about her mother hovering over her, Warner said with a laugh.
“She loves having her independence a little bit,” Warner said.
Cassidy also enjoys spending time with kids who go through some of her same struggles, her mom said.
Other campers have said similar things. Camp Riley provides testimonials on its website.
Suanne Jeffries said, “The thing I remember most is the feeling I got from being around other kids who all shared feelings of insecurity, self-doubt and shame. For two weeks in the summer, we could all feel like we were just ‘normal’ kids. We were accepted, we excelled, we were cared for and cared about.”