March of Dimes, Aphasia Camp 2013

In September 2013, we—ten lucky University of Toronto second year Speech-Language Pathology students—had the honour of volunteering at Aphasia Camp.

We arrived at camp mid-afternoon on a Friday.  We quickly got settled in and then had the pleasure of greeting campers and helping them select the activities that they wanted to participate in throughout the weekend.  That night everyone watched the movie After Words. Following the movie, we led small group discussions with campers and volunteers, and then a person with aphasia from each group shared their thoughts and feelings with the large group. We heard powerful messages like “my wife is love”,  “when life hands you apples, make lemonade”, and “there is hope”.

The rest of the weekend was just as powerful and inspiring as our first day.  As students, our main role was to serve as “communication ramps” for the campers with aphasia.  We took part in meal-time conversations and facilitated communication throughout the weekend by engaging campers, repeating messages, and key-wording with our trusty notepads and sharpies.  There were many fun, special, and touching moments that we shared with the campers:

Erica loved becoming friends with a number of campers, and sharing lots of laughs and stories. She also enjoyed learning some new salsa dance moves and learning more about helpful communication technology. For Erica, aphasia camp was a truly enriching experience where she was able to see that compassion and friendship are an integral part of being a great SLP.

Nikki’s favourite part was connecting with each camper (both people with aphasia and their caregivers) on a personal level and hearing their stories. She was able to see who they are beyond aphasia, which is an important lesson for a future speech-language pathologist to remember.

Jackie A. loved sharing a special dance with one of the campers, led by Motus-O, and sharing in the singing and festivities of campfire night.

Jackie R.’s favourite part of Aphasia Camp was seeing campers become more confident in themselves and their communication skills.  She enjoyed laughing, dancing and singing with the campers. Jackie R. is now a better Euchre player after learning some new tricks and strategies from some incredibly talented card players. She enjoyed connecting with many of the campers and learned that everyone has a unique and beautiful story to share.

Savanna’s favourite part was getting to know many of the campers. It was inspiring to hear the stories of their journeys with aphasia, and to see people with aphasia and their caregivers being supported by and supporting others over the course of the weekend.

Sarah’s favourite part was witnessing campers participate in activities they had thought were not possible before the weekend began. It was a weekend where campers with and without aphasia could learn from one another and express themselves without reservation.

Amy felt there were many deeply moving moments at Aphasia Camp. One of her favourites was watching a lovely gentleman golf for the first time since his stroke five years prior. Having been told repeatedly that he could no longer play a game he had played for much of his adult life, he was very reticent to try golf while at Aphasia Camp. But try he did. His first attempt was a whiz-by. His remaining 20 we’re smack on and after his turn he turned to his wife and exclaimed, “It’s alright!” He had a huge smile on his face as well as tears in his eyes. His wife’s eyes echoed his. In that one glance the story of their life, of which aphasia was a part, became a story to know.

Carolyn’s favourite part of camp was making special connections with the campers.  She also loved golfing with the gentlemen and getting relationship advice from camp’s very own social butterfly.

Daniel’s favourite part of Aphasia Camp was seeing how campers’ outlooks could significantly change over only a couple of days, and watching couples whose relationships had undergone tremendous strains as a result of their disability be brought closer and have some of that strain alleviated.

Watching campers express themselves beyond words using modern dance is a memory of aphasia camp Mary will never forget. The joy and confidence the campers showed in dance was inspirational and has inspired Mary to continue pushing the boundaries of her professional career. She will also always remember sharing the story of a camper’s travels across the country all the while using an ipad-based picture book to tell the tale.

Our experience at Aphasia Camp was unforgettable and enjoyable, and it touched us all deeply.  If we each had to sum up in one word (or two, or three) what it was like, this is what we would say:  Erica – “authentic”; Nikki – “family” and “surprising”; Jackie A. – “warmth” and “happiness”; Jackie R. – “camaraderie”; Savanna – “hopeful” and “inspiring”; Sarah – “community” and “renewed expectations”; Amy – “courage” and “resiliency”; Carolyn – “friendship” and “laughter”; Daniel – “discovery”; Mary – “awe-inspiring”.  We are all grateful for this experience and feel like we received much more than we gave.