Like most things this year, Camp Shout Out for Youth Who Stutter turned their usual camp, virtual. While we all knew that it would be hard to mirror the unique experience camp brings through a computer screen, it still held all the values and practices that make it so special to the campers (and the adults). Another part of camp that has actually been virtual for the last five years (clearly they were ahead of the times) is the Camp Shout Out Virtual 5K. This run/walk helps raise scholarship money for campers who would not otherwise be able to afford to attend Camp Shout Out (CSO). Since the event began four years ago, it has raised $9,500 dollars to help send kids to camp. Every year, the virtual 5k takes place during the last week of October to coincide with International Stuttering Awareness Day.
Balega stepped up this year to provide some of the best socks ever as raffle prizes for participants in the run. It feels so right to me that Balega’s mission of Ubuntu or “shared humanity” is partnering up with a place that also has the value of shared humanity and helping others. For the past few years, I’ve hosted an in-person CSO 5K for friends and family but, true to its name, this year will have to be virtual for me in order to keep everyone safe. If you want to join along with me from afar and run in support of a camper it would be an honor.
What is Camp Shout Out?
Camp Shout Out for Youth Who Stutter was founded in 2010 by co-directors Kristen Chemla, M.A., CCC-SLP BCS-F, and Julie Raynor M.A., CCC-SLP. I was lucky enough to find out about CSO in 2018 and have been a part of it ever since through their unique hands-on training for speech-language pathologists. Even if you only attend camp for one summer, I don’t think the feeling you get from being there and being with all the beautiful souls with a shared vision ever leaves your heart. I know that there is no way that I could put it quite as eloquently as the campers do throughout the week, but it’d be a shame to have the experiences I’ve had and not share it with you.
Free to soak in all the good
For seven days out of the year, the campers who come to Camp Shout Out are set free. Free from wondering if someone is judging their speech and in turn judging them, free from feeling like they are the only ones that have to explain themselves when people should just be a little more accepting without the explanation, free from wondering how long it will be until someone cuts them off or finishes their sentence, free to just be the amazing humans they are without the weight of their stutter. With the exception of very few people (myself being one of them), everyone at camp stutters, and the campers shared that this is a place that there’s an understanding that all of the good things in life will come their way that week; the trust, the support, the friendships, and love.
“That’s my cabin mate”
While I could talk for days about all the things that make CSO so magical, I will try my best to hit some of the highlights that go above and beyond your basic camp experience. For me, the real magic doesn’t always happen as something that is on the schedule. One thing special about camp is that you never hear a child put another child down. Not only do they not put each other down, but they are constantly lifting each other up. In every speaking situation or challenge by choice moment for both campers and adults alike, you are cheered on and encouraged with words like “That’s my cabin mate,” “You’ve got this,” and “We’ve got your back.” It is refreshing and humbling to see children from the ages of 8 to 18 acting with more grace than a lot of adults do these days. It will serve the world well to take a lesson from the kids at Camp Shout Out.
Challenge by Choice
Everything at camp is a challenge by choice. Campers challenge themselves by signing up to do dinner announcements, emcee the Talent Show, ride the zipline, or talk to an adult they don’t know at mealtimes. As I mentioned, this is my third summer being a part of camp and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to watch some campers who might not have been ready to challenge themselves three years ago, and now they are taking on that challenge and more. You only have a week at camp with these kids, and let me tell you amazing things do happen in that week, but when you get to be a part of someone’s journey and see them take risks and evolve from year to year, it is quite the blessing.
Every Word is Heard
A shared value of CSO is Holding Space - where every word is heard. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to say what you want to say or how you say it, everyone waits, because what you have to say is important. While I’ve always considered myself a patient person when it comes to my students, CSO also taught me that the adults in my life deserve that same respect, and sometimes sitting in silence can have more of an impact than any comment I was going to make. So, on that note…I’m holding the space for the next part of this post for what Camp Shout Out means to one of the campers. I had the pleasure of catching up with Lila, 18, one truly remarkable camper to get her first-hand thoughts on camp.
1) What makes Camp Shout Out so special?
When I grew up, I went to your basic camp, with canoes, smores, horseback riding, the whole nine yards. But I honestly never felt like I really fit in. Later, I was introduced to Camp Shout Out. This camp is extremely similar to a basic camp, but it is exclusively for kids who stutter. It is a really special place because it takes kids who feel like they don’t fit in, and it makes them feel extra special for a week. But not only for a week, they leave camp feeling braver and more excited to take on the world. This camp genuinely changes lives. It's massively changed my life, and I’ve done things that younger me couldn’t have fathomed happening.
2) Why do you think it would be important for other kids who stutter to get to go to camp?
I think young stutterers should have the chance to go to CSO. The environment is so welcoming and amazing. It is a really safe place where kids share their experiences and are understood. They can talk freely without the worry of being mocked or laughed at. It is a really different world than the real world. Kids will most definitely find lifelong friends there. They also will meet amazing SLPs who will inspire them for their lifetime. They will learn new speech strategies to assist them throughout life. I can attest to the fact that kids leave camp completely changed. They come to camp very quiet and afraid and leave confident and assertive. I have seen it happen so many times, and I wish every young stutterer could feel that.
3) What is your favorite part about camp?
My favorite part about camp is the bonds you create with others. I have countless older SLP friends who I look up to and strive to be like. I want to be a Speech Language Pathologist when I grow up, so it's great to have astounding adults to get advice from and speak with. I have made many friends my age, too. We all support each other like family. We constantly text each other, talk about things we struggle with, and the good things in our lives. I have many friends who don’t stutter from my hometown, but a friend who stutters like you is very different. They understand your frustrations and problems because they have experienced them. The friends I have made are truly a special kind.
To everyone who stuck with this post to the end, thank you. You showed me that you are capable of making space for someone’s words no matter how long it takes. Hope to see your running or walking feet for a few miles next October for the virtual Camp Shout Out 5K!