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Creative Arts camp: 'where miracles happen'

Marylhurst University brings a summer camp experience to special needs children who often miss out

REVIEW PHOTO: CLIFF NEWELL - The Hall family of California had a lot of fun on Graduation Day at the Creative Arts Camp. From left: Jessica, camper Jordan and mom Sherri. “Heartwarming” is such a worn out, trite word that it should be banned from the English language.

However, “heartwarming” has to be dragged out at least one more time to describe graduation day at the Creative Arts Day Camp at Marylhurst University on July 24. No other word will do.

Camp director and founder Lillieth Grand was beaming, counselors were grinning, parents were delighted, and campers were overjoyed to be engulfed in so much love. Plus, everyone got to dine on great food for the potluck lunch.

Happiness reigned. Almost all of the 31 campers have severe neurological impairment or a chromosomal disorder. Half of the campers have some degree of autism, while others have severe anxiety.

Yet it was so obvious that Grand’s camp had accomplished its mission: creating joy. It was a grand camp, indeed.

REVIEW PHOTO: CLIFF NEWELL - Lillieth Grand, founder and director of the Creative Arts Summer Camp at Marylhurst University, has a song for campers on the camp's last day on July 24.“Our No. 1 goal is fun,” says Lainey Brown, a music therapy student at Marylhurst University and one of the camp’s counselors. “The whole point is that no matter where you are or who you are, what your abilities are — verbal, non-verbal, ambulatory, non-ambulatory, how much control you have over your body — it’s a chance for you to have fun as a camper.”

Grand agrees.

“Fun,” she says. “That’s the overarching, primary goal. All children have the right to a really fun and engaging summer camp experience.”

Grand started the camp in 2007. One of her children is neurologically atypical, and Grand says it was her struggle to find summertime programs for him that led to the development of the Creative Arts camp.

“In looking for opportunities for him in the summer time, there just weren’t any,” she says.

Grand, a music therapist who teaches at Marylhurst, also has a master’s degree in special education. She says that it was the search for summer opportunities that led her to combine her two areas of expertise. “As a music therapist, I recognized that it was a need we could fill,” Grand says.

Music therapy involves a number of music-related practices. A participant might engage in creating, dancing or listening to music as a part of treatment. For the students at the camp, this meant performing in drum circles, listening to a staffer who plays the guitar, singing the camp song and dancing.

However, Grand went beyond music therapy for the camp and recruited experts with experience in a number of art therapy fields, including practitioners of psychodrama and drama therapy, dance/movement therapy, poetry therapy and art therapy.

REVIEW PHOTO: CLIFF NEWELL - Yu-Wen Huang was happy to be on the Orange Team for the Creative Arts Summer Camp at Marylhurst University. Helping Yu-Wen have fun is 6-year-old camper Madeline Decker.Jackie Fowler, director of Marlyhurst’s Center for Experiential Learning and a drama therapist, volunteered to help lead the camp for the first time this year. “My goal was to have fun with the kids and to help them try to use their imaginations,” she says. Fowler had campers practice creative role play, which involves taking on the role of another person or another thing.

“My tracking of how well they were able to do that was my idea of success,” Fowler says. “And they all did it to some degree. Some were amazing. The first day, all they could do was talk about what they were thinking, and by the last day, they were actually able to be another person, or be another entity.”

Although exercises like these are geared toward fun, therapeutic results often occur as a matter of course. Children who are affected by autism or other handicaps often struggle in social situations, either as a condition of their affliction or as a consequence.

“Role reversing creates compassion,” Fowler says. “So for a kid with autism to be able to role reverse ... I cried at the end of that.”

Camp was also an emotional experience for the 12 young counselors who staffed the two one-week sessions — the first for children ages 5-9 and the second for children ages 10-17. Most of the counselors are students at Marylhurst University who are themselves looking forward to careers as music therapists, and they saw the Creative Arts Camp as a great inspiration.

REVIEW PHOTO: CLIFF NEWELL - Chris Koroshetz, a counselor at the Creative Arts Summer Camp at Marylhurst University, has fun rolling a camper in a giant plastic inflated ball on the camp's final day.“It was such an intensive experience,” says 21-year-old Natalia Uribe of Columbia. “We saw how to build a group and how to help a child no matter what her level of disability. This was a totally growing experience for me, both professionally and personally.”

Perhaps the most moving sight of the day was counselor Jessica Hall reaching out to embrace her sister Jordan, who suffers from an extremely rare and severe form of disability called Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome. It was one of the finest examples of love that could be imagined.

“She’s the reason I’m going to be a music therapist,” says the 25-year-old Hall, who is an outstanding singer. “I started unwittingly practicing musical therapy when I was 5 years old. Teaching my sister has helped to learn to communicate with kids and help them get some success.

“Doing this camp feels like home. It fills my heart. I’ve seen the communication barriers go down.”

Hall and Uribe are members of “The Orange Team” made up of the camp’s counselors, and all of them were wearing bright orange T-shirts for the occasion. They could also be called a dream team.

“We’ve grown so much together and relied on each other so much,” Hall says. “All of us together are like a beating heart.”

The party had to end, but there were no fallen faces. Grand promises that the Creative Arts Summer Camp would be back again in 2016, only bigger and better.

“Next year we’ll have 60 campers,” Grand says. “It will be twice as much fun. This is a camp where miracles happen.”

Reporter Jake Bartman also contributed to this story. Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or cnewell@lakeoswegoreview.com.


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