A shift from tradition, a respite for campers

By Jordan Duncan

Campers with disabilities sang on the patio area of a cabin in a circle with the support and encouragement of assigned SIU student caregivers this weekend at Touch of Nature Environmental Center.

Traditions Respite Camp is a camp for adults with physical, cognitive or developmental disabilities. SIU students participated in the program as part of the therapeutic recreation major with the Department of Health Education and Recreation.

Vicki Lang-Mendenhall, a therapeutic recreation specialist with Touch of Nature, said she sent an email to Heewon Yang, now interim chair of the department, last February to start the planning process. She also said Jun Kim, an instructor with the department who teaches the class, helped with planning.


The camp had 10 adult participants, many of whom were nonverbal communicators, and 14 student caregivers.

Eric Engleson, a senior from Arlington Heights studying therapeutic recreation, and Jamie Brolick, a senior from New Lennox studying therapeutic recreation, are two students who participated in the program.

Engleson said the focus of therapeutic recreation is healing people with entertaining activities.

“It’s helping others do what they wouldn’t be able to do,” he said. “It’s exploring different boundaries people had within themselves just because they were never given the opportunity.”

Lang-Mendenhall said the class previously was classroom-based in the summer, but switched to a hands-on approach for the first time this fall. She said there was not a practical approach to caring for disabled adults in the curriculum.

Brolick said work experience is needed to obtain a job in the therapeutic recreation field.

“If this major were just a textbook and PowerPoint lecture, I don’t even think it would be possible to learn what this is about and get a job,” Brolick said.


Kim said he wants to expand the program, and Lang-Mendenhall said she wants two fall sessions in the future.

Engleson said preparation time for students to learn more about the daily activities at the camp could improve the program.

Although he said extra time would have helped, the students said they look forward to the opportunity to help people through their careers.

“This is the most stressful and rewarding job I have ever had,” Brolick said. She said helping the campers have new experiences sometimes brought her to tears.

“It gives a sense of accomplishment not just in yourself, but in others,” Engleson said.

Terrence Sanders, a camper from Anna, said he made friends with this year’s staff and planned to continue contact after the camp finishes.

“I’ve experienced a lot and I’m very happy with it. That’s why I want to come back next fall,” Sanders said.

This year was Sanders’ first year camping. He said before this weekend, he never experienced a boat ride or a hayride.

“It’s very fun to go on a field trip you’ve never been on,” Sanders said. “This is a lifetime experience I will never forget.”

Jordan Duncan can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @jordanduncanDE