The array of activities included zoo animals, a helicopter, and more.
If you were driving on Silver Lake Road sometime around noon on July 28 you may have seen a helicopter land on the campus of St. Anne Episcopal School.
Around the same time the next day, a Middletown Police Department K-9 unit also paid a visit to the school.
Consequently, over the course of the rest of the week, other “unusual” things took place at the school property – an alligator, a snake, a legless lizard, and a truck from the Volunteer Fire Hose also made an appearance.
All the action was part of this year’s Days of Summer Camp, an event open for children with Down syndrome and their siblings.
“The helicopter landed right there,” said Lisa Wisnewski of Middletown, pointing to a green, open field a few yards away from one of the school buildings.
Wisnewski’s daughter, 11-year-old Grace, was excited to see the helicopter demonstration.
“It’s not something that all kids get to see from up close, but the kids here did,” said Wisnewski. “It’s great that they get to have all these experiences.”
As many as 52 children ages 3 to 13 from all over Delaware enjoyed the free activities offered in this year’s camp – 20 more children than in 2013, said event coordinator Lauren Camp.
“And, we are hoping for 75 children to attend next year. We are growing so quickly,” she added.
Days of Summer was held for the first time in 2012 when Camp was a student at Appoquinimink High School. Its success drew the attention of the Down Syndrome Association of Delaware (DSA) which decided to sponsor the summer event from then on, keeping Camp as the coordinator.
“It started as my high school senior project. It was a one-time thing and I just loved doing it,” Camp said.
Now a sophomore at the University of Delaware, Camp has seen her high school senior project become the only camp of its kind in Delaware. All the activities she organizes are meant to be educational, yet fun. Children with Down syndrome and their siblings get to enjoy everything that the camp has to offer together.
“It’s great for the siblings to be here because it makes it a family event,” Wisnewski said.
Keeping an eye on the campers are counselors, all volunteering for the five-day event. Each child is assigned a counselor who chaperones them from activity to activity.
“Many of the counselors are high school honor students trying to meet their community service hours,” said Camp. “It’s great to see them work with these children.”
Parents who bring their children to the camp say they are impressed by the activities and experiences the children have at the camp.
“Grace woke up at 5:30 a.m. this morning ready to come to the camp,” said Wisnewski. “She couldn’t wait until 8:30 when the activities begin.”
Susan Melnik’s 5-year-old son, John, and his older sister also attended the camp all the way from Wilmington. She says that the support for children with Down syndrome is growing and that more people understand that they are not so much different than their peers.
“It wasn’t like this 10 years ago,” said Melnik. “The children are more included in the community now. People know that they should be given the same opportunities as the rest of society.”
According to the DSA of Delaware, there are more than 400,000 people living with Down syndrome in the United States.
Since 1983, the life expectancy for those with the genetic disorder has increased from 25 to 60 years, according to a fact sheet by the DSA of Delaware. The organization believes that with the support of friends, family, and the community, people with Down syndrome can have very fulfilling lives.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Melnik. “[People with Down syndrome] are great just the way they are.”
People like Wisnewski, Melnik, and Camp say they hope that those who volunteer for the Days of Summer, especially the high school students, will go into careers that help not just people with Down syndrome, but anyone who has a special need.