Student Mini Grant: Exploring Youth Disabilities through Michigan Active Citizens

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The Project

Michigan Active Citizens Alternative Spring Break is a program through the Ginsberg Center here on campus that provides opportunities for students to engage in meaningful service as they enter into a community over spring break. In our specific topic and site, we will be exploring Youth Disabilities in Burton, TX, through Camp For All, a barrier-free camp for youth around the country. Here is a short description of Camp For All taken from their website: 

“Camp For All was designed with no barriers for children and adults with special needs to experience the thrill of camping and nature, just like their able-bodied peers. All of the programming is “universal,” meaning that the activities can be accomplished regardless of the campers’ challenges, be it mobility, emotional or learning issues. Camp For All provides an environment that is free of the barriers in the everyday world, such as 8-foot wide sidewalks to maximize mobility in wheelchairs, sloping entrance into the pool with a special lift, ramps and myriad special saddles to aid horseback riders, low beds with wide space in cabins and large accessible showers and toilet areas. This culture of inclusion is underscored throughout the camp site and is truly built to “level the playing field” for all. Camp For All is the only recreational facility that accommodates the special needs community in this way.”

The main goal of this trip was three-fold: To create an environment of learning more about Youth Disabilities and social change for Michigan students, not just for one week outside of their regular lives, but also as a way of life and goal of active citizenship; to strengthen the community we are entering by providing support in the needs that are expressed; to impact our campus climate by advocating for social justice, community engagement, and hands-on active learning. This service trip was especially unique because of the impact it can have on students leading up to and following their spring break trip. Instead of seeing their time on the site as the end goal, we see it as an opportunity to practice social change on our journey to becoming an active citizen. As college students, we are often limited by our time, our mental capacity due to stress from school or jobs, so this allowed students to get out of that stressful environment and focus on a topic they are passionate or interested about. There are many training sessions leading up to the trip, as well as re-orientation after break. We will be working alongside a team of hardworking professionals at camp who help run the camp smoothly year round. 

The two of us have felt that our trip to Camp For All last year was not holistic due to the lack of education about our topic prior to our trip, as well as a lack of community within the trip members. We have an idea that can improve both those aspects of our Alternative Spring Break - group research! We want to take advantage of the resources the library has, as well as its expert mentors to educate ourselves on the topic of Youth Disabilities in the U.S. as well as around the world. We want to prepare ourselves as much as possible to enter a mindspace of learning from others and from history to best match the needs of the Camp For All community. We could learn to find credible sources online that have statistics that are not skewed as well as read about historical changes in the US concerning the American Disabilities Act, it’s enactment and the changes it has undergone in recent years. Athena and I are also excited to work with a mentor to develop a lesson plan for an education and training session we have with our participants.

Both of us were participants on this trip through Gingsberg’s MAC-ASB, so we had somewhat an idea of what we would be experiencing. However, we wanted to strengthen pre-trip education among participants, since it was something we felt could easily be bypassed and forgotten about, while consumed with exciting events and detailed logistics. Our goal was to create great lesson plans filled with prompts to push to be critical thinkers on this topic, as well as give our participants a sense of agency in researching the topic. Our weekly meetings consisted of icebreakers and team builders, some logistics, and discussions about social justice and youth disabilities. Examples of our meeting structures are linked here and here in the slides. As co-Site Leaders, we worked together to plan logistics such as driving, coordinating with the Ginsberg Center. We organized meetings to educate our team on the responsibilities of a trip that is community-focused, especially since we worked with young children with disabilities. 

Results

Our team of 9 students traveled to Burton, Texas over Spring Break to work with and learn from Camp For All. During the trip, we had the opportunity to work behind-the-scenes and work directly with the campers. We worked with housekeeping to clean and prepare the camp for the summer, their busiest season. We also helped to serve food and wash dishes after meals. While campers were in attendance, we helped with ziplining, canoeing, fishing, horseback riding, paintball, archery and karaoke. After our service each day, we would reflect on what we had and the implications of our work. This reflection allowed us to process our daily tasks, however menial they might have felt, as well as challenge ourselves to go further in considering what we can do as a society to support the disabled community. 

Next Steps

The next steps of this project highly depend on the participants of the trip. Although our mentorship to them officially ended this semester, there has been much continual support within the team to pursue more opportunities that support those with disabilities. Two of our participants will be site leaders next year for their own MAC-ASB trip! Others, including Athena and I, will continue to work with communities in and around Ann Arbor to learn from others and make social change in ways that we can. MAC-ASB will continue with some new participants as well as returning leaders, continuing to encourage community engagement on U of M’s campus.

We utilized our funds from the mini-grant to support our $1000 fundraising requirement to the Ginsberg Center. This sum includes costs incurred during the trip such as lodging, gas for travel, and a grocery budget. In collaboration with Stephanie Rosen, we found resources such as articles, documentaries, and activities that could be used to encourage our participants to think more deeply about Youth Disabilities. This enriched our leadership experience through MAC-ASB as well as the education we had in preparation to entering Camp For All’s community. We learned a lot as leaders and it has encouraged both of us to further explore the topic as we go further in our respective fields (Neuroscience and Medicine for Athena, Speech Language Pathology and Audiology for Evangeline). 

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Evangeline Yeh and Athena Apfel are Undergraduate Students at the University of Michigan