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Camp Campus readies teens with Asperger's for college life

June 16, 2014

Editor's Note: The following story about UW-Eau Claire's Camp Campus appeared in the July 12 issue of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram and is reprinted with permission. The story was written by UW-Eau Claire journalism major Courtney Kueppers.

By Courtney Kueppers
Eau Claire Leader-Telegram staff

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Camp Campus participant Kelsey Erickson worked alongside accomplished jazz violinist Randy Sabien, who also is the founder of the string department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Camp Campus participants, all teenagers who have Asperger's syndrome, met with professionals accomplished in the areas of study they wish to pursue as college students. (UW-Eau Claire photo)

On a recent Monday evening, seven teenagers, all of whom have Asperger's syndrome, worked as a team, supported each other and problem-solved their way through the challenges of a low ropes course on UW-Eau Claire's campus.

The sight was powerful, said Kay Hagedorn, co-coordinator of Camp Campus, a program that offers young adults with Asperger's, a high-functioning form of autism, a chance to spend a week at UW-Eau Claire living as college students. The program, which started in 2009, is designed to make participants' transition to college smoother.

This year's program started June 8 and wrapped up June 13. The camp includes social skills development, financial management, fitness training and one-on-one meetings with academic faculty.

"It's been great," said Dan Allaire, camp participant from Stillwater, Minn.

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Camp Campus participant Daniel Allaire of Stillwater, Minn., takes part in a team building exercise Monday evening. Behind him are fellow campers Paul Garthwaite, Hannah Sedlacek, Kelsey Erickson and Andrew Butterfield. (Photo by Elizabeth Jackson, Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.)
Allaire said highlights of the camp have included meeting new people, such as his roommate for the week, Andrew Butterfield, and "knowing what it is like to live on a college campus."

Butterfield, of Durand, said camp has been well worth it and has "lived up to its advertisements."

Along with meeting faculty members from UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout and Chippewa Valley Technical College, campers also meet with professionals within the area of study they hope to enter. For Butterfield, that meant a Skype conversation with a paleontologist from the Smithsonian Institution, an experience that "was a rush," he said.

Hagedorn, who has worked with Julia Miller as Camp Campus co-coordinator for five years, said camp experiences often inspire participants and allow them to see what is needed to obtain their dream job.

"The goal is for them to know they can get a job, hold a job and support themselves," Hagedorn said. "And a job that is on their level, not below it.

They don't need to work as grocery baggers instead of computer scientists or mechanical engineers, if that's what they want to do."

It also helps for community members to meet with the camp students, Miller said.

"There is a stereotype of what Asperger's looks like, but this shows people what Asperger's really is," she said.

Hagedorn said the 10 UW-Eau Claire students who work as camp mentors benefit as much as participants.

Like many camp mentors, Chloe Gulich, a mentor for the past three years, is studying communication sciences and disorders. She said seeing participants' growth during camp is rewarding.

When camp began in 2009, Emily Axelson and Amy Hilbert were communication sciences and disorders graduate students at UW-Eau Claire. Today they both work as speech/language pathologists but take a week off each summer to work at Camp Campus. The duo said they have seen mentors such as Gulich grow immensely because of camp.

"We have seen (Gulich) grow from being very shy when she started," Hilbert said. "That is very rewarding for us. All our mentors are great."


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