You know the not-so-old saw now: There’s an app for that! In the old days, kids went to summer day camp for swimming, crafts and assorted activities. Now there are day camps for dance, cheerleading, technology, bugs, horses, music, robotics and much more. If you have a specially challenged child in the New River Valley who struggles with social skills and communication, there’s a camp for that!
Brick Road Drama Camp is a half-day, full week, day camp for special needs children ages 4 and up who don’t fit neatly into society’s norms and disciplines. Each camper is paired with a child, teen or two in the same age group, as appropriate, and like the proverbial buddy system, moves through the activities by their side. There is no cost to campers. They are asked only to bring their own snack, a sack lunch and drink every day.
Each camper has a special part to practice for the final performance, which is held on stage the evening of the last camp day. Refreshments follow for families and the audience to mingle with the day campers, now actors and actresses.
“When my daughter Nicki attended, two sisters around middle school ages were with her the whole week,” says Weesie Hubbard of Christiansburg. “She even let them put a gown and hat on her, and she was funny about things like that. They went on stage with her at the final performance, and I had no qualms about leaving Nicki every day. In fact, she did better than she would have with me there.”
Nicki Hubbard functioned on a very low level of special needs, having been severely developmentally-delayed physically, emotionally and mentally. “She operated all her life in the range of a 3-year-old,” Weesie relates. “Whatever the level where a child functions, the drama camp matches each camper with the best peer volunteers.” Nicki was not able to offer feedback from the experience, given her disabilities, but Weesie would take her again if she could. Nicki died in 2021 at the age of 43.
Campers ages 4 to 11 attend mornings, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., ending with lunch. Those in the 12 and up age group begin with lunch at 12:30 and stay until 4 p.m. Each day opens with prayer, though the camp is not an evangelical mission. Campers will hear that they are made and loved by God, as they engage in acting games, role modeling, using puppets, fine-tuning social skills and preparing their part in the Friday night show. The adult and peer model volunteers deliver guidance, compassion and supervision in an atmosphere of loving kindness and patience.
“We tell jokes, practice greetings and focus on social skills like joining a conversation, telling a story, or approaching a new person,” states Courtney Hood, who has organized these camps and presentations across more than a decade.
“The drama camp is one of the most memorable weeks that I’ve ever been a part of,” says Jim Krouscas, pastor at Blacksburg Christian Fellowship. “To witness firsthand the personal growth of the campers from when they show up on Monday morning, with little or no on-stage experience, to watching them perform during Friday evening’s live performance is nothing short of amazing!”
“Not only is this a blessing for the campers,” Krouscas continues, “but in many ways an even greater blessing for their parents. To see the joy in the parents as they watch their children perform is beyond words.”
Each half-day of drama camp is structured for fun, learning and practice. All the volunteers are vetted with a background check and receive training and instruction in managing a variety of possible personality meltdowns and challenges. There are plenty of adult volunteers to love, appreciate and encourage everyone.
The Camp Director
Courtney Hood draws on her experiences teaching children with a wide range of disabilities for nearly 20 years, plus her education. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Early Childhood Special Education and has been drawn to teaching since she was in 5th grade. In high school, she veered into drama and performance, but majored in communications and broadcasting for her undergraduate degree. Not enamored with journalism, Hood stepped into a preschool special education position. After 10 years, she switched to homeschooling her two sons full-time to address and guide them through their own special needs.
“Drama therapy for socializing and communication challenges is an up and coming approach,” Hood relates. “I attended a conference with a woman from New York who wrote a book about drama therapy, and I felt motivated to do it.”
“Without Courtney, there is no drama camp,” Krouscas explains. “This kind of event can only happen with an entire team of committed volunteers and a gifted leader like Courtney Hood.”
Limitations and impairments come in all stripes, and many conditions present challenges in the realm of social skills and communication. Learning disabilities in children impact their lives inside and out of the classroom, and many struggle in social settings with isolation, misunderstandings and inappropriate behavior. And for many of them, there are no day camp options. This is indeed a unique opportunity for special needs kids and their parents, guardians and caregivers in the New River Valley.
Brick Road Drama Camp
Monday to Friday, half day, June 27 – July 1
Performance Night, July 1, 7 p.m., reception following
Each camper brings a snack, lunch and drink every day
Camp and performance at
Blacksburg Christian Fellowship
2300 N. Main St., Blacksburg
Text by Joanne M. Anderson