For the past thirteen years, UW-Eau Claire professors and students similar to Kaitlyn Weiland have collaborated with the Eau Claire Mayo Clinic Health System to provide a weekend getaway for individuals with aphasia.
The Chippewa Valley Aphasia Camp offers individuals with aphasia four days of activities and workshops at Camp Manitou. Aphasia is a communication disorder that affects the left side of the brain's ability to use and understand language possibly due to stroke.
Kaitlyn and 19 other volunteers helped 50 campers feel comfortable while participating in outdoor hobbies and activities while engaging in conversations with others. “I had to jump right in; it took a lot of learning at first. I struggled to understand the campers even after a training session where I learned how to communicate with the campers efficiently by using note taking and pictures.”
Due to communication barriers, many individuals with aphasia lose touch with friends and family. “One of my campers had difficulty speaking; when he did speak, he lit up the whole room. He made everyone laugh and always wanted to show how proud he was of his family.”
While aphasia does not affect intelligence, it can be frustrating for those with aphasia to communicate. “Before camp, I worked on my communication skills so the campers could feel like I was being genuine and could hold a deep conversation.”
Although well-rehearsed, Kaitlyn expressed her initial frustration, “The first couple of conversations I had with the campers were frustrating because I wanted to be able to communicate back to them. By the end of the first day, I could understand them much better. One gentleman could only speak a few words, and that was frustrating because I wanted to understand what he was saying.”
Making friends and experiencing progress is why many individuals with aphasia look forward to this annual event. “For the campers to have the opportunity to spend time with people similar to them and experience conversation, the campers come back year after year.”
“The importance of this experience was that it pushed me to experience different things. By volunteering, you learn a lot about yourself. I learned that there is a need for more camps like this to help these individuals realize they are not alone.”
After the Chippewa Valley Aphasia Camp, Kaitlyn plans to pursue a post-grad career assisting older generations. “I left the camp feeling really good about the experience and glad I was a part of it.”