Spotlight on the Forsyth County Chapter

Editor’s note: For those who have a loved one with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a community of support can be a lifeline. For more than 40 years, ASNC Chapters and Support Groups have provided families who face similar challenges an opportunity to encourage one another, share experiences, find information and resources, and have a place where they feel welcomed and understood. These volunteer-led groups also offer education to families, increase autism awareness and understanding, and support and extend ASNC’s mission in their local communities.

Throughout this year, we are highlighting the ways each of our Chapters and Support Groups makes a difference. To find one near you, please click here or contact Marty Kellogg, ASNC State Chapter Coordinator, at 919-865-5088 or mkellogg@autismsociety-nc.org.

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Camp Imagine

This year, Camp Imagine runs from June 29 to July 2. Applications are due May 30.

In late June, about 20 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder will have the experience of a lifetime thanks to the Autism Society of North Carolina Forsyth County Chapter. They will live for almost a week in the air-conditioned cabins of Camp Hanes in King, NC, and spend their days playing in the water, gathering around campfires, and enjoying other activities.

“They get to do pretty much everything any other kids do,” said Jan Badger, one of the co-leaders of the Forsyth County Chapter, which created Camp Imagine almost 20 years ago. Each year, the chapter promotes the camp that is held at Camp Hanes, helps with the application process, and provides directors to oversee the counselors.

Before the children show up for camp, their families fill out a long application so that counselors, provided by Camp Hanes, know more about the children, such as the ways that they communicate, their skills, and their challenging behaviors. Camp Imagine helps the children – and their parents – build confidence, Badger said. “A lot of the things the parents think their children are incapable of doing, they do during camp.”

“It’s just the right amount of time I think for our kids to get an experience where they’re away from home for a week,” she said. “It opens them up to try other camps that might not even be designed for kids with autism.”

Badger said her 9-year-old son with autism has not attended Camp Imagine yet because of scheduling conflicts, but she has gained from the chapter in other ways.

“I’ve met so many people who have been such a huge encouragement and given me more information than any doctor could give us,” she said. “There’s so many different aspects of treatment that go beyond medication. …. The best resource you have is parents.”

Badger and the other leaders of the chapter hope to get more parents involved in organizing and participating in events this year so that they can benefit from this resource, too. “It’s really important that people know that these chapters are being run by parents that are just like them,” she said.

Members of the Forsyth County Chapter enjoy moms' night out.

Former leader Julie Coulter, current treasurer Stephanie Reitz, co-leader Jan Badger, and member Donna Skultety enjoy Forsyth moms’ night out.

The Forsyth County Chapter has become much more active since 2010, when several new moms – Julie Coulter, Stephanie Reitz, and Badger – joined longtime members of the board. Laura Salmons, the other co-leader, has also played a pivotal role. In recent years, the chapter has started an evening support group that meets once a month and includes an informational presentation; a monthly moms’ night out; a dads’ group that meets quarterly; and a chapter Facebook group that adds new members every day, Badger said.

“The Facebook page is a little more comfortable place for people to post any issues they’re having or questions they have. They usually get pretty instant feedback,” Badger said.

Judy Smithmyer, an ASNC Autism Resource Specialist for the Triad, said the Facebook page is a great resource. “They get a lot of traffic on there, and I am always impressed with their level of support and awareness to the families they serve.”

Families had a chance to learn about local service providers and vendors at the chapter's resource fair.

Families had a chance to learn about local service providers and vendors at the chapter’s resource fair.

The chapter is also trying to support families through a group for Spanish speakers that chapter leaders hope to get off the ground this year, and they’d like to offer more for families with older children or children who face severe challenges because of autism. One way they provided information for families this past year was through a resource fair organized by chapter board member Andrew Haverstock at the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem. The event featured area vendors and service providers and donated food for families. “One of the things I really like about their chapter is that they look for new and unique ways to support the families,” Smithmyer said.

This August, the chapter will fund a training session for local teachers with staff members from ASNC. The training is a new effort, but the chapter helps teachers every year – through efforts such as sending several teachers to ASNC’s annual conference – because members believe that is a way to have a big impact. The chapter wants to support the school system and help teachers and families work as a team to educate children.

“If you train a teacher, they can go back to schools and train other teachers,” Badger said. “And then you’re impacting more than one child. That’s a ripple effect.”

For more information

To learn more about Camp Imagine, please click here or contact Camp Coordinator Karen Boccardi at kboccardi@aol.com. An open house is set for Saturday, May 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with RSVPs requested to Boccardi. Camp applications, which are available on the website, must be postmarked or hand delivered by May 30.

To learn more about the Forsyth County Chapter, send an email to autismsocietyforsythcounty@gmail.com or go to the chapter’s website.

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