This year at Camp Sunshine we incorporated a new segment of training for our volunteer counselors that we are calling “Mindset Matters.” This training is designed to be a foundational base to have when entering into relationships with people of all abilities. We believe that all human beings should be treated with love, kindness, and a mutual respect for one another and we have come up with these four mindsets to help do so.
Mindset #1: With, Not For
This is the idea that counselors should be participating in and experiencing camp WITH their camper, not FOR their camper. We invite our counselors to come alongside their camper in all activities and advocate for camper independence as much as possible. It is essential that our counselors treat our campers as the adults they are!
Mindset #2: Presuming Intelligence
Presuming intelligence is based on the understanding that the ability to communicate is not equivalent to the ability to understand. Language production and language comprehension happen in two different parts of the brain (Broca’s area - production, Wernickie’s area - comprehension) and therefore are not mutually exclusive events. We teach our counselors to assume competence in our campers and believe that all people are inherently capable, they just need the right support and systems to help them succeed. This means that even if a camper may not use traditional language to communicate, we presume that they are still fully able to understand the world around them!
Mindset #3: Dignity-Based Communication
At Camp Sunshine we emphasize the importance of speaking to our adult friends as adults. This involves both the content of the conversation AND the tone of the conversation. We encourage our counselors to chat with their campers about adult-based content - living arrangements, family, jobs, etc. and use an adult-based tone when doing so. We advise against “baby talk” and any condescending tone that is typically not intentional, nevertheless hurtful. We encourage our counselors to talk with campers as they would talk to any other friends or adults they have in their life!
Mindset #4: Celebrating Diversity (+ Disability!)
Camp Sunshine is an affirming, inclusive organization of all abilities, all genders, all races, etc. and we ask our counselors to embrace this mindset while they are at camp with us. We believe that disability is a normal part of our human family and should be celebrated! We are learning from many disability advocates the importance of embracing the word disability itself and joyfully reclaiming it as a positive term. We embrace and celebrate the diversity of bodies and minds in the disability community!
We are continuously working towards our vision: to make the world outside of Camp Sunshine a more affirming and inclusive place by inspiring agents of change with transforming experiences and relationships. We are grateful for the opportunity to train and equip hundreds of high-school and college-aged students each summer with disability etiquette and knowledge that they can take with them beyond the “walls” of Camp Sunshine!
Special thanks to Josie Rund for the development of this training program for Camp Sunshine, and thank you to the many Disability Advocates doing beautiful work, including training from Benjamin's Hope, Disability Network Southwest Michigan, and Michigan Disability Rights Coalition.