The Student News Site of Canyon Vista Middle School

Canyon Echoes

The Student News Site of Canyon Vista Middle School

Canyon Echoes

The Student News Site of Canyon Vista Middle School

Canyon Echoes

People With Smiles Camp


Mrs. Jennifer Arcaya, best known as Canyon Vista’s BIM & Fundamentals of Computer Science teacher, also helps direct a summer camp outside of school. Established in 2011, the People With Smiles camp is designed for campers with Prader-Willi-Syndrome (PWS) and takes place in San Antonio at Morgan’s Wonderland Camp. This year, the camp will take place July 7-11.

Q: What inspired you to begin this camp?

A: “This camp is for people with Prader-Willi Syndrome. And my oldest daughter has PWS. So I’m on the Texas Board for it and we first attended camp, gosh, probably about 11 years ago, and I went with her and from then on, I just started being a part of it. And eventually became camp director.”

Q: What makes it so hard to find camps able to give adequate care for kids with PWS?

A: ”One of the biggest things with PWS is they are always hungry, so that you haven’t, where you feel like you haven’t eaten all day your stomach feels almost nauseous. They feel like that all the time. And so unfortunately, it’s hard to find a camp that feeds their campers healthy foods. A lot of times there’s a lot of junk food, burgers and pizzas and hot dogs, and that kind of thing. And so what ends up happening is with our particular campers, because they need 1,000 calories a day or they gain weight. And that’s really hard to do. And so what ends up happening is our campers go and gain a lot of weight at camp. Sometimes there’s behaviors that aren’t ideal, normal camps can’t handle the type of behaviors that aren’t ideal, that normal camps can’t handle the behaviors that may come with some of our campers, so just being a special needs individual, it’s hard to find camps that will, you know, that can take them and provide them with that opportunity.”

Q: What does People With Smiles offer to help these kids?

A:”We have a lot of the same activities so our campers get to go swimming and ziplining and arts & crafts, photography, biking, campfires, and a social or a dance, that gets through all that, But the one thing that we do have is that we provide our campers with a one-on-one counselor for that time. So they have one buddy that stays with them and helps them to the whole camp. That person assists them with any daily care they might need, or just encouragement and that kind of thing. So they kind of have like a one-on-one person with them all week. And then we provide the specialized diet. And then of course we have people on staff to handle those behaviors that may come up that aren’t typical.”

Q: Does the camp get a wide variety of ages?

A: “It’s 8 up to… I think our oldest camper is probably in their 50’s. So this year about 8 to 50 is this year’s age range.”

Q: Would you ever want more sessions to be available over the summer?

A: “It takes a lot to pull off that one week. So I think we’ll probably just stick with that. We’ve looked before at having a sibling camp, because it can be really hard on siblings when they have a sibling with special needs, and sometimes the other siblings don’t get the same attention. So we tried to do  sibling camp so that individuals with those same experiences and their families would have the opportunity to meet other people that they could talk to, make friends with, and have support. But it was hard to find a good time of year because they’re usually so involved in sports and other activities. It wasn’t as successful. What we would like to do is have a mom’s retreat or mom’s camp, because that way moms can meet other moms and have that support from each other.”

Q: What is a favorite memory of camp?

A: “I think one of my favorite memories is the smiles, as we leave camp, are so memorable every year. We all get teary-eyed and tell everyone goodbye, knowing that it’ll be a year to see each other again. But a couple years ago me and the other camp directors did the zipline, and the zipline is different because it’s for people with disabilities, so it’s more like a chairlift that drops really fast. The camp director, her name is Vicki, and I took this up to the top, and then we were just looking out over the top of the camp, seeing all our campers just having a good time and involved in all the activities. Seeing all that from a bird’s-eye-view was really cool and emotional for us.

And we have another teacher here too, Ms. Gonzalez, who also goes and volunteers with us. And she’s coming on, gosh, her third summer with us, maybe fourth.”

“The People With Smiles Camp is the highlight of my whole summer. I can’t miss it! The campers definitely have a special place in my heart. I love seeing the volunteers again and having fun with some really great people every summer.” said Ms. Jennifer Gonzalez.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Canyon Echoes Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *