I can’t stop smiling. Yesterday we had our 3rd annual Family Field Trip and it was nothing short of perfect. We had to reschedule from last weekend due to an 80% chance of thunderstorms and glad we did because yesterday was 60 and sunny – the perfect fall day.
Let me rewind back to the beginning and give you all the background. I’m going to take a break today from my typical autism rantings and share a few personal stories. Hope you don’t mind 🙂 Seven years ago my uncle was diagnosed with colon cancer with a devastating prognosis. I am from a huge Irish Catholic family where my cousins are like my brothers and sisters and my aunts and uncles are my second parents. Needless to say, we were heartbroken. My aunt and uncle are some of the most amazing people and I am still at a loss of how this happened to them. During my uncle’s first of many battles related to his disease, he built his family a weekend home in Wisconsin. My aunt is a social worker on the west side of Chicago and works with at risk youth. They started bringing up groups of kids to their home for overnight trips. My aunt said these kids would just melt once they got out of the city. These tough and jaded teenagers were suddenly playful and smiling kids roasting marshmallows and hiking in the woods.
Then the idea for Rustic Falls Nature Camp took off. My aunt and uncle bought an old dairy farm nearby and with the help of family and friends completely transformed the run down farm into an incredible facility. Rustic Falls is dedicated to working with families battling cancer, children with disabilities, and at risk youth. Since it’s start in 2005, they have welcomed countless groups for everything from weeklong to day trips.
Rustic Falls Nature Camp is a place for kids to be kids. A place for kids to leave behind the pressures of everyday life, whether it be the grind of medical care or a neighborhood that has more than its share of violence. Each of the camp sessions is tailored to meet the special needs of the group, with an emphasis on connecting to nature (Chicago Tribune article about Rustic Falls).
I’m getting a little chocked up writing this because I am constantly amazed and inspired by my aunt and uncle. They are without a doubt the strongest people I have ever met. Mid-chemo treatments and surgery my uncle would spend days up in Wisconsin clearing trails in the woods, building waterfalls, and laying cobblestone paths. He is superman. It has been seven years since his diagnosis and his work at Rustic Falls has gotten him through this incredibly difficult battle.
My amazing aunt goes above and beyond; stopping by school to drop off treats for my kids, making 100 sugar cookies (twice!), lugging car loads of pumpkins, and everything in between. You would never know the amount of stress she is under. There are just no words.
Sorry for being so lengthly, but it’s a story worth telling. So, yesterday my class and my coworker’s class went up to a Wisconsin for a day of hikes, pumpkin carving, hay races, and campfire songs. We invite all of their families and had over 80 people this year – two very tightly packed school buses. It is truly a special day. Giving the families a chance to interact with each other is so important. Many of the parents don’t know other parents of kids with disabilities. These parents are able to connect on a level not many people can. Same with the siblings. If one of our students freaks out – nobody bats an eye. Everyone has seen it before. Everyone understand. Everyone can relax and be themselves. It is the most amazing thing to see. Many of our families live in neighborhoods that are not safe. These kids cannot play outside in their backyard or go to the park to play basketball. At the family field trip, they can be outside and not worry about their safety.
This year we invited my students that graduated last year and one of my other students that transferred over the summer. Seeing these kids reunited with their friends was unforgettable. Some people think kids with autism aren’t social or capable of having friendships. Well, yea right – you should have seen the smiles and excitement my kids had as they ran to hug each other yesterday morning.
I think this year’s trip was the best one yet. My kids may argue that it was because of this year’s addition of the bounce house. But I think it was because most families knew what to expect since they had been before. It was great to see how excited even the parents were in anticipation of this trip. And the new families fit right in. It is the best way to start the school year. We start out of this tone of togetherness and family. Maybe that sounds corny but it’s true. Some of the therapists come to help. My family is all there – even my grandpa and grandma were able to come see.
I feel like I could write forever about this! Honestly, thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I know this wasn’t practical autism advice or ABA based – but this is such an important day in my school year – and my life – that I really wanted to share it with you all. So thank you for listening 🙂