PALS brings inclusive camp experience to UNE
BIDDEFORD — It was a week of making memories.
About 40 people from around the country joined together at the University of New England campus for PALS summer camp, an inclusive program for people with and without Down Syndrome. At PALS camps, participants with Down Syndrome are paired with a peer who does not have Down Syndrome. The pairs room together and are assigned to a group of four or five pairs led by a volunteer leader.
On Friday at the dining commons, the mood was lively as the campers prepared for the end of the week Olympic Games.
Hannah Kendrick, a participant from New Jersey, sat as Program Administrator Joey Javeline tied an orange head band on her.
Orange was Kendrick’s team color, and she was confident that her team was going to win.
Kendrick, who dances with a troupe in Boston, said her favorite part of the week was the Mardi Gras dance.
Anna Rose Rubright, a participant also from New Jersey, was decked out in green, her team’s color, and had the words “GO GREEN” written in face paint on her arm.
Rubright, a photographer, had a camera around her neck and was enjoying taking pictures of everyone. Like Kendrick, she had participated in PALS summer programs several times.
“I just love being here,” she said.
UNE Student Leigh Rohe said their favorite part of the week-long camp was the scavenger hunt through Portland.
“Our team got very into it,” said Rohe.
Rohe heard about PALS through the school’s social media and decided to volunteer as a peer.
“It seemed like it would be a great experience, and it is. It’s an amazing experience,” they said. “Honestly, it feels like a vacation. It’s so fun and everyone is so kind. We’re all having a great time.”
Javeline, a special education teacher from New Jersey, said over the week they had also gone sailing, had a lobster dinner, went bowling, watched movies and sang karaoke.
“We do lots of fun activities that allow us all to bond and spend time together,” she said.
Participants also wrote letters to new and expecting parents of a baby with a Down syndrome diagnosis through the Congratulations Project, said Hannah LoVerdi, a licensed nursing assistant and medical volunteer for the week-long camp. The letters through the Congratulations Project, an initiative of PALS, encourage, inspire and congratulate new families.
LoVerdi is also a Health, Wellness, and Occupational Studies student at UNE, and president of the campus chapter of Best Buddies, a program that builds friendships between people with and without disabilities.
Everyone at the camp is there to with the same goal in mind, no matter their diagnosis, said LoVerdi.
“It’s literally been all of us just hanging out and having fun this week,” she said.
Publisher Liz Gotthelf can be reached at [email protected]