In the summer of 1975, the first official Camp Lotasfun program was hosted at the Camp Fire Girls facility in Galena Creek, Nevada. The camp was attended predominately by the residents of the Nevada Mental Health Institute in Reno. This was a grim time in our society when many people with developmental and intellectual disabilities were relegated to institutions and confined to controlled care environments. Families were often discouraged from caring for their special needs children due to the challenges and stress it presented.
In schools across America these individuals were segregated into classrooms with other special needs students. In 1975, I was a 12 year old middle school student in Los Angeles County. I remember the sterile white trailers that served as classrooms for the ‘special kids’. These were isolated chambers where one never really knew what went on inside. For three years I watched through the window of my bustling traditional classroom as these students were chaperoned daily by aides, to and from the mysterious trailers. I fondly recall the names of many of my childhood friends from that time in my life, but I do not remember the name of a single special needs student who attended Jane Addams Middle School. Society told us we weren’t the same.
I can only imagine what many people associated with the Nevada Mental Health Institute must have thought about the concept of sending those first groups of special needs residents out into the wilderness for a camping excursion. If society felt these individuals weren’t capable of sitting in a classroom with other 12 year olds, it was surely a radical concept to expose them to nature, immersing them with the general population and the independence this afforded them. It allowed them opportunity to experience life like everyone else. What an amazing part of this organizations history to have been a part of!
Fast forward 40 years. Today, parents are empowered to keep their special needs children in the home. As students they are mainstreamed with their general education peers. It’s common for many of our counselors to know our campers from classrooms they once shared or through programs where they served as student mentors.
At Amplify Life we’re expanding into new territory, developing and running more programs than ever to deliver more quality of life for people to thrive. We’re embracing more volunteers and employing more young people, creating influencers to help open minds about the way people see others with special needs. In FY2015, Amplify Life served a record number of people in its accomplished history, nearly 600.
This is a legacy to be proud of. It’s the legacy of Amplify Life and it’s the legacy of each of you who have supported us through the years. To donors, counselors, and volunteers revel in the change you have helped create, celebrate the lives you have enhanced, and imagine the possibilities that await, as together we continue to shape the future. It’s an amazing time to be a part of Amplify Life!
Gayla Ouellette, Executive Director