I never thought I would send my kids to summer camp at such a young age, let alone find an inclusive summer camp for them. As a kid, I didn’t go away during the summer until I was in high school. I see so many kids who have been going to summer camp regularly for years now and I swore I wouldn’t feel pressured to send mine. I’m not about to give up eight weeks each year of our already dwindling summers together. But now I can’t imagine our life without our one week of summer camp at Camp Southern Ground. It’s had such a positive impact on our family’s life and it’s just that special of a place.
What Makes Camp Southern Ground So Special
Camp Southern Ground is unlike any camp you have ever seen or experienced. First and foremost, it is an inclusive camp. As described on their website, the camp brings together typically developing children, children with Austism Spectrum Disorder, learning and attention issues such as ADHD, and Dyslexia, and social or emotional challenges. This is what drew our family in from the start. When you have a child on the spectrum and they have a typically developing sibling, it isn’t easy to find activities that they can participate in together, nevermind a summer camp. It’s so important that they get to experience this amazing camp together and yet, they still get plenty of time to be independent and forge their own friendships. A lot of places claim to be inclusive and miss the mark. Camp Southern Ground really shows how easy it is to put inclusion first and it exemplifies the many reasons why it is beneficial for not just our kids, but for the community.
The camp also supports, hosts and includes children of military and veteran families. During the other weeks of the year, the camp teams up with organizations like Boot Campaign and Kyle Frog Foundation to provide great programming and support for these families. While at summer camp, the kids learn how to be good patriots and participate in flag ceremonies twice a day, where they learn how to take pride in the flag and care it. Children of military families are provided with a comforting experience at camp, as many are dealing with parents having been deployed or having lost a parent in service.
Zach Brown and His Dream
Before I go on and on about how awesome Camp Southern Ground is, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the person who dreamed up this wonderful place for children of all abilities. Not only is his music literally a staple (and on replay) in our household, but the one and only Zach Brown of The Zach Brown Band is behind this magical place. He wanted to create a place that was much more than the typical camp experience and he did just that! Zach was a camper and a camp counselor himself, so he knew the importance of children being outdoors while they grow and learn from each other. We’re so thankful to Zach and his heart for our kids because this amazing place wouldn’t exist without him.
Our Family’s Experience
We had the opportunity to spend some time at camp, before and after our children’s session last summer. It was their first official summer camp since opening. Currently there are several beautiful facilities on-site with several more on the horizon. In the future, there will be a chapel, a state-of-the-art aquatic center, and a respite center. The staff is amazing and supportive of all the kids’ differences and challenges. There were behavioral experts, inclusion specialists, specialized counselors, and nurses on hand for our children. We were so impressed at the amount of support available to our daughter and how much thought and preparation had gone into serving her needs. As they build out the facilities and gain more resources, the camp will be able to serve campers with more moderate and severe challenges.
When we picked up our children on the last day, we had the opportunity to experience a meal with them. Chef Collins whipped up some of his delicious food for lunch, using produce from the camp’s garden. Right away we could see the bonds our kids had made with other children and the staff. I don’t want to give away all their secrets, so I’ll let you and your children experience the special little details for yourself. Let’s just say that they provide a really warm environment for everyone, even at meal time. The kids really enjoyed the family style setting for meals. They were so excited that they brought the ideas home with them and they’ve become a part of our daily life at home.
There were so many great activities for our kids to participate in. Our kids loved the “floating” tree house where they enjoyed music classes and jam sessions. There is also a high ropes adventure course that includes ziplines. The camp has it’s own organic gardens where the kids got to pick foods to use in culinary class. They were also able to learn about nature and history through classes like mining. Campfire time was also a favorite for both our kids. They also enjoyed playing basketball, field games, gaga ball, water games and target sports like archery and sling shots. The kids also had plenty of down time to socialize, do arts and crafts or take a yoga class.
Camp Southern Ground has a motto….Where goodness grows. It’s a concept that permeates every part of camp. It’s evident in everything the staff does for the campers and in everything they try to instill in them. They accomplish all this goodness focusing on three main goals: growing unique gifts, growing healthy bodies, and growing good communities. The kids tried new things, they were challenged to move out of their comfort zones and encouraged to discover their unique talents and gifts. They were taught to really connect with the food they eat. They spent time at the camp’s organic garden and learned where food comes from and how it fuels their bodies. The camp is a tech-free zone, so the kids focused on social interaction, making friends, and working together as a team.
On a Personal Note
As far as our own experience, it’s hard to put into words what this camp and our children’s experiences have meant to our whole family. I can tell you we have all been changed for the better in so many different ways. Our kids discovered things they love and things they are good at. We have seen how they’ve grown in confidence and in their independence. They made friends with some wonderful kids who were accepting of their differences and found their tribe of people. It’s a family atmosphere at camp and both the kids finally felt what it’s like to belong. Since camp, our kids both participate in our garden at home. They love to be in the kitchen now to plan meals, cook, set up, and clean up. They will try pretty much anything we whip up.
Something we didn’t expect was the respite it provided my husband and I. Since camp is in Georgia, we were not ready to drop off our kids for a week without being close by and didn’t want to make that long drive twice. So we stayed nearby and had our own little getaway. As a married couple and parents of a child with special needs, it’s important to have that time to ourselves. We were able to take that time because we knew our kids were well taken care of, our daughter was supported, and we knew they were both being provided with an amazing experience. It helped us to relax and gave us the opportunity to enjoy time away without them .
“Where Goodness Grows”
There are so many other little ways the kids grew that have made them into even better little people and have brought our family closer together. I wish I could write about all of them. It’s been amazing to see how much our kids have grown in goodness since camp. The fact that they have the opportunity to bring all that goodness back to their own community is just a beautiful thing. Right from the start, Camp Southern Ground’s mission of growing more goodness in the world aligned with ours to raise our kids to be good people. They understand the hard things our kids and we as parents face in this world today. Our family has struggled with bullying. Both kids (especially our special needs child) have struggled to fit in. We deal with the pressures of technology. Even just trying to teach our kids to be themselves and have their own beliefs can be tough when many follow who or what may seem popular at the moment. They’ve created a special place, like no other, that helps to combat those struggles. Camp really fosters a loving environment where our kids can grow and goodness can grow in them. As they state on their website as part of their mission, “Camp Southern Ground wants to be the place where your child can have good fun, eat good food, connect with good friends, and learn the confidence to go put more good into the world.” That’s a mission we are so proud to support!
Support Camp Southern GroundS
We our grateful that our kids will have the opportunity to attend summer camp again this year. Special thanks to Camp Director Scott Hicok, Program Director Stan Tucker, our kids’ bunk counselors, and all the staff, who made our kids’ first experience at camp so wonderful. Each and every one of them have been so supportive of us as parents and of our kids’ needs. Camp Southern Ground has become part of our family and we hope it will always be part of our summers. We’d love to keep our special place a secret and all to ourselves. But when you love something this much you can’t help but share with the world! If you are interested in finding more information about camp, please visit the Camp Southern Ground website. You can also support Camp Southern Ground by giving a donation here to help this wonderful organization and all the families they serve.
At Camp Southern Ground, they believe Love is the Remedy. Our family couldn’t agree more! These smiles say it all! If you’re looking for an inclusive, safe, supportive, loving and encouraging place where your kids can grow this summer, while having the experience of a lifetime, look no further! Camp Southern Ground is truly that magical place you’re looking for. It’s been such a blessing to our family, and we look forward to another year of our family growing in goodness because of it.