Grand Bahama News

Special needs camp resumes after two years

After a two-year hiatus, children with disabilities on Grand Bahama received much-needed therapeutic services with the return of the special needs summer camp held at The Beacon School – a collaborative effort on the part of the Grand Bahama Down Syndrome Society (GBDSS), the City of Freeport Council, and The Beacon School. The camp was held June 27 – July 15.

Wende Hanna, GBDSS president, said the camp’s goal was “to provide the necessary therapeutic services that children with special needs require to fully develop”.

She said, “Although we expected to have more children participate in the camp, the ones [who] were there had an amazing time and received free, quality therapeutic services.”

Camp organizers were prepared to accommodate 100 participants.

However, 24 children attended the camp, which took place for the first time since 2019, due to Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The camp operated under the theme, “Invest in our Planet,” with a sub-theme each week.

Camp worker Ivy Russell explained, “The children completed crafts, games and activities that centered around a different topic each week.”

Week one focused on connecting with nature; week two focused on Bahamian species, and week three’s theme was ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’.”

Russell’s group, along with other camp members, went on a nature walk at the Lucaya Nursery and used materials found on the campus to create art pieces that were showcased on the final day of camp. 

Camp attendees also participated in both individual and group speech and occupational therapy sessions.

Hanna Gilbert, a speech therapist with Flamingo Lingo, a speech therapy agency, and Krysta Leong Poi, who is with Pediatric Communication Solutions, provided speech screening and assessment.

Occupational therapy was provided by Charlis Robins and Kendrika Bowe of Genius Soul, an occupational therapy company which serves Freeport and Nassau. 

“This experience was fun and very rewarding,” Gilbert said.

“Screening and assessment made it easier to determine the strengths or areas of difficulty of the children and assist with building their communication skills and following instructions.”

Bowe, the enhancement coach assisting Robins, believes special needs individuals can benefit from the services that their organization provides.

“What we aim to accomplish with each child is to assist them in developing desirable behaviors,” she said.

“As an enhancement coach, I ensure that the techniques and strategies done during the therapy session with the occupational therapist are done properly and consistently.”

Hanna noted that campgoers enjoyed the activities.

“The kids benefited from the services that were given and they had so much fun in the process,” she said.

Edmund Johnson, a Beacon School student who attended the camp, said the experience was amazing.

“We did so many things and had a great time,” Edmund said.

“One of my favorite activities at camp was learning the Cupid Shuffle.”

Camp members were taught the Cha Cha Slide, Cupid Shuffle and Electric Slide by Susie Stewart, a member of a local line dancing group.

Despite the camp lasting only three weeks, Hanna is hopeful that the services can continue on a long-term basis.

“These types of services aren’t offered as a part of the curriculum in the special needs schools, but they are a necessity,” she said.

“Teachers try their best, but a person who is specifically trained in the area of speech and occupational therapy is needed in the schools. As a parent of a special needs child, it is my duty to advocate for the things that are beneficial to their development.”

Titi McKenzie-Moss, principal of The Beacon School and camp coordinator, was happy to have camp once again.

“It was a joy having camp this year,” said McKenzie-Moss.

“We have not been able to have camp since 2019, which means that many of these children did not have access to the services that are provided free of charge during this camp since that time.”

She said although the services are not currently a part of the school’s curriculum, she hopes that a solution can be found to make the services available to all who require them.

Frazette Gibson, chief councilor for the City of Freeport Council, expects the special services provided during the camp will be offered during the upcoming school year.

“The City of Freeport Council is committed to the development of our special needs children,” Gibson said.

“In the new school year, we are looking forward to having the occupational therapist at The Beacon School at least two days per week.”

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