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Where can children who struggle with social skills go for the prototypical summer camp experience?
Where can parents be sure their child won’t be bullied, where counselors are therapeutically trained to help children who have trouble regulating their emotions?
The answer – for the past 13 years and counting – is UNC Greensboro’s DREAM Camp.
Since 2008, Dr. Susan Keane, a UNCG psychology professor and director of clinical training, has led the annual day camp. It’s designed for children who have high-functioning autism or who simply have trouble connecting with their peers.
“Fourteen years ago, a mother urged me to extend the social skills curriculum I was using in the UNCG Psychology Clinic through the summer months,” said Keane. “She knew children with social difficulties, like her son, often had trouble navigating typical summer camp experiences. She also knew that the social gains children made during the school year were often lost over the summer.”
And so, DREAM Camp was born – named as such because the mother felt it was many parents’ dream to have a summer program like this one.
Since its inception, DREAM Camp has combined traditional camp activities, like games and crafts, with research-backed skills training in communication and emotion regulation.
Trained graduate students and faculty members from the UNCG Psychology Clinic lead the therapeutic programming. And volunteers from both UNCG and the wider community help to infuse each day with energy and new experiences.
At this summer’s 2021 DREAM Camp, held June 21 – 25 and July 12 – 16 at the UNCG Middle College, campers participated in a percussion activity led by a UNCG music student, a movement activity led by a UNCG kinesiology professor, a magic show led by a local magician, and more.
Another big hit this year? Members of the UNCG men’s basketball team joined the campers for some high-energy basketball exercises.
“The basketball players were a wonderful example of care and compassion,” said Keane. “Their kindness and enthusiasm allowed even the most reticent campers to get out on the floor and give basketball a try.”
A primary goal of DREAM Camp is to give campers many opportunities for success: to build their confidence, navigate interpersonal situations with more ease, and realize their potential.
“Each year, I’m impressed by the growth I see in the campers,” Keane reflected. “The outcome I find most poignant is when a camper comes in on day one, reluctant to participate in any activity, but by the end of camp has found their voice, engages appropriately with others, and truly enjoys the social and educational opportunities that camp provides.”
Such positive outcomes would not be possible without the support that has kept DREAM Camp alive and thriving for so many years.
It all started with an initial donation from professional golfer, Davis Love III, as well as a seed grant from the Bryan Community Venture Enrichment Funds. And the camp’s most ardent and faithful support over the years has come from alumna Candy Bernard ‘67.
“She is committed to the camp’s success, and her contributions have allowed us to offer DREAM Camp at a reduced fee and provide full and partial scholarships for children whose parents do not have the resources to cover summer programming costs,” said Keane.
Parents interested in enrolling their child in next year’s DREAM Camp can visit the UNCG Psychology Clinic here.
Story by Elizabeth Keri, College of Arts & Sciences
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications