By Meg Hossler and Matthew Watkins
“Camp Thunderbird, show me your wings!” Now that we have your attention, let us introduce you to what place we called home this past summer. Camp Thunderbird, founded in 1969, is a summer camp for adults and children with developmental and physical disabilities. We serve a diverse group of people who come to enjoy a summer camp like any of you would. We do everything “normal” summer camps do, like, crafts, archery, swimming, bonfires, and talent shows, but with a few exceptions. We provide adaptive activities for all our guests, we help with self-care, we provide nursing care, and we help to diffuse a wide variety of behaviors. We hope you get to see a snapshot of what camp life is like and get the chance to grow like we did.
Welcome to Camp Thunderbird! My name is Meg, and I serve as the Administrative Lead here. I work in the office and process all the applications for camp, I talk to concerned parents, and I give tours of our lovely camp to prospective campers. I also serve on the medication administration team and pass meds to our campers every day. Some fun facts about this summer: I saved a bat my first week at camp, I wore matching flamingo shorts with one of our guests, and I made 62 drug sheets for the all the medications I passed out.
Before I tell you more about camp, I need to give you some background on Matthew Watkins. I met Matt when I was a freshman in the Kugelman Honors Program, where we became instant best friends and began dating shortly after. In the past, we’ve worked together as youth directors at a few local churches. This summer, I convinced him to work at a special needs summer camp with me, something he has never done before and had zero experience in. To say I was impressed by the end of the summer would be an understatement. Matt was a rockstar at Camp Thunderbird. Every week, Matt managed a cabin of 15-20 mentally and/or physically disabled guests with ages ranging from 45 to 80. I had the amazing opportunity to watch Matt care deeply for each of our guests and develop relationships with each of them. I watched Matt change adult diapers, pass medications, manage extreme behaviors, and comfort guests during emotional breakdowns. After last summer, it is clear that Matt will be a great social worker after he graduates this fall. Camp has solidified Matt’s desire to pursue a career in the school system, where he can continue helping students of all abilities.
Welcome to the Gator Cabin! My name is Matthew, and I am the Cabin Lead. It’s my job to spend the day with the guests, ensure all their needs are met, lead a staff of 10 people, make schedules, and report to the camp director about everything going on in the Gator Cabin. The Gator Cabin is one of four and houses the older male guests. Some fun facts about this summer: I went to New York City during my week off, I played banjo at the opening bonfires, and I served on the safety team at camp.
Meg was looking for an Orlando job this summer and found Camp Thunderbird. After applying, she called eagerly and ended up getting an interview with the director, who offered the Administrative Lead position on the spot. Meg did an amazing job in the office getting the applications through, working with guardians and group homes to meet the financial needs of guests, and gathering all the medical documents needed for campers to come. She also showed enthusiasm interacting with guests and giving tours. Meg’s position was new to camp, so she faced some adversity with it. However, she made positive changes at camp that not only made this summer better, but will also improve camp in the long run. During the last week on the job, Meg stepped up as camp was short staffed and worked with guests in the cabins on top of her normal job responsibilities. Without Meg going above and beyond this summer, camp wouldn’t have provided such an incredible experience for our guests. After last summer, Meg has decided to continue pursuing her passion for working with special needs, and she has joined the Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association, and she plans to get her nursing certificate in developmental disabilities nursing, while also getting a doctorate in the future and pursuing research in this area.