By Jerrica Thurman
The Amputee Coalition held its 2022 Youth Camp at Conference in Palm Desert, California, August 10-13, bringing together Campers ages 10-17, their parents, counselors, and leaders in training for the first time in three years. The in-person Youth Camp helps young people living with limb loss or limb difference to connect with peers, explore new experiences, and grow in their confidence and awareness.
This year’s Campers were inspired by NFL Pro and amputee advocate Chris Draft, who served as the Youth Camp Director and led the youth in fun interactive activities and mentoring sessions. “Seeing them be compassionate towards each other and get to know each other and interact were the important highlights,” Draft said.
Guest speakers included Paralympian Ezra Frech and motivational speaker JaMarr John Johnson. “It was great to have Ezra spend time with the campers because he isn’t much older than they are and he was able to talk with them about ways to maneuver your prosthesis for sport activities,” said Dr. Alicia Straughter, Amputee Coalition Human Resources and Diversity & Inclusion Vice President, who directed and planned the Youth Camp. “He was so deeply engaged with the kids and demonstrated how to run and use his prosthetic device to maximize speed. The youth valued him as a mentor.”
“Chris and JaMarr both had experience working with individuals with limb loss. They came prepared to help the Campers learn life skills, how to deal with adversity, and how to handle being confronted with thinking that you are different when you are not,” said Zachary Hearn, Amputee Coalition Vice President of Government Relations and Community Engagement, who helped organize the Youth Camp. “They gave the kids mental tools to stand up and be a leader no matter the situation.”
The Campers connected with old and new friends and engaged in enriching programming and peer support in a new environment and structure, as well did their parents. New opportunities were created to involve parents in their own support sessions at “Camp at Conference” and allow them to join National Conference sessions and the expo hall. Several parents congregated during the Camp for parent support, which ignited a new concept for a parent peer support group.
“The need to create a parent support structure so they can meet periodically was certainly a key takeaway from this year’s Youth Camp. It was amazing to hear the parents talk about the different obstacles their kids face, whether related to medical or school issues, and they enjoyed connecting with other parents who face similar challenges,” said Dr. Straughter.
“Several parents told me they appreciated the time spent with each other just as much as their kids did with other Campers. We are considering how to integrate opportunities for parent support as part of next year’s camp.”
The youth activities ranged from Jenga contests, swimming, tennis, golf, cornhole, and football throws to running and dance contests, boat rides, karaoke, face painting, and breakout sessions that addressed the Campers’ mental and emotional needs and facilitated deep conversations with the counselors. Bringing the youth back together in-person who represented different ethnic backgrounds and geographical regions so they can play and have fun was satisfying for the organizers, and more importantly, for the youth participants.
Here’s what the 2022 Campers had to say about their experience:
“It makes me feel more comfortable and confident in myself and not as awkward,” said Makayla Mongo.
“I started coming to the Amputee Coalition when I was 10 years old, and I haven’t missed a year of Camp since then. It’s like a second home,” Brandon Mefford said.
“I really like meeting new people and making new friends, and the fun activities they provided for us,” said Samantha Lewis.
Check out the 2022 Youth Camp videos and photos for a complete overview of all the exciting activities on Amputee Coalition’s YouTube and social media channels and the Camp webpage at www.amputee-coalition. org/events-programs/youth-camp.
Plan now to join the Amputee Coalition 2023 Camp at Conference in Orlando, Florida! For more information, email camp@amputee coalition.org.