Caring Camps

Local offerings for kids with special needs.

From swimming and canoeing to making new friends and eating s’mores, no child should miss out on the joys of summer camp. And if your child has disabilities, the North Shore offers a boatload of fun, nurturing opportunities.

Even if you’re used to caring for your child one-on-one, there are local camps that offer personalized care to ensure that your child will feel cared for and protected while having a blast. Camp Hope in Algonquin and Camp Hug the Bear in Glenview are examples of camps where your kids can get one-to-one care.

At Camp Hope, a five-day residential summer camp for children, teenagers and young adults with developmental disabilities, each camper is paired with a buddy—a college student, or high school junior or senior. The pairs are made taking into account the buddy’s experience and the young person’s disabilities.

“They become almost like a brother or sister,” says Lillie Romeiser, director of Camp Hope, explaining that buddies are not only physically responsible for the young person, but they are also companions. Buddies become experts on their campers: they review the child’s medical information beforehand and talk to the parents several times before the child arrives.

The goal is for the kids to know “how much they are loved and cared for,” Romeiser says.

Camp Hug the Bear, located in the Glenview Park District Park Center, serves children who have sensory integration disorder or are on the autism spectrum. There’s a one-to-one ratio between children and aides, and the aides are supported by highly trained experts.

Mia McNary of Glenview founded the camp with her husband Tim because she couldn’t find anything for her 3-year-old son to do during the month of August, when kids with autism “truly need as much structure as possible,” McNary says, as they get ready for the school year.

Mel Robson, superintendent of recreation for the Northbrook-based Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association (NSSRA), which operates Camp Hug the Bear, says the camp “bridges the gap” between typically scheduled summer programs and back-to-school time, giving children lots of sensory experiences through activities such as swimming and jumping on trampolines.

And kids aren’t the only ones forming tight bonds—the parents can, too. McNary started a support group for moms parenting children with autism with the moms she met at camp. And that just proves the rule: Summer’s good to everyone.

For more information on the camps in this article, visit these sites:

Camp Hope

Camp Hug the Bear

For a complete guide to local camps for kids with special needs, visit our camp guide.