Jawonio celebrated the 30th anniversary of their Summer Education Program on Monday with the Rockland Boulders Mascot, Boulder Bird, and Outfielder Barry Wesson who were invited to play baseball with the Jawonio students.
The Boulders' visit was one of many special activities that make up the Jawonio camp summer. The campers warmed up before the afternoon game with their Physical Education Instructor, Tom Roistein. A white tent was set up for the audience and Boulders' fans - parents, staff, and members of Jawonio’s adult program.
The Boulder Bird was greeted with cheers and applause. The kids circled the mascot, waiting for their turn to hug, high-five, take a picture with or get the autograph of Boulder Bird. The blue, fuzzy, bug-eyed mascot was a hit among campers.
“He’s nice. I gave him a hug,” said Camper Tayani Espinal.
After befriending the bird, the campers joined him in a game of baseball, with colorful velcro mitts in the place of the typical glove. One team waited for their chance at bat, while the other played the field. Each player was pitched the ball by Boulder Bird until they made contact.
Counselors guided them around the bases and ushered cups of water to the children, who remained in high spirits, even in the intense heat.
Barry Wesson, an outfielder with the Rockland Boulders, posed for pictures with the kids and chatted with them under the tent. Wesson is a new addition to the Boulders, having retired after a career with the Houston Astros and the Anaheim Angels. Sunday will mark his second week on the team. On his second day, he acquired an unfortunate injury, a pulled hamstring, though he plans to be back soon.
Wesson spoke with Rockland Boulders staff about doing a meet and greet with the Jawonio kids.
“I love coming,” says Wesson, noting that he enjoys most “the opportunity to share gifts with these kids.” “Faith and hope,” he says.
Jawonio’s Summer Education program is a unique service that allows students ages six to 20 to get the most out of their summer. Half of each day is dedicated to academic instruction, while the other half is set aside for recreation, so students can still experience summer camp.
The objective is “to help our kids develop better self esteem and better confidence,” says Jerry Staller, Director of Children’s Services.
Each camp day begins with a morning song. Campers assemble to hear the day’s activities. Academics take place in the cabin, where special education teachers, aides, and counselors assist the students.
In the afternoon, each group swims for half an hour in the pool. Twice a week, the students participate in physical education and art, while two to three times a week the students attend music classes.
The children can look forward to late night dances and barbecues. On Wednesday, August 17, there will be a show for parents, exhibiting the students’ work in art and music.
“They enjoy seeing their friends and coming back to staff they feel comfortable with,” says Staller.
Students are from all the Rockland schools, and some are from Orange County. Jawonio staff must integrate the IEPs (Individual Education Plans) of each school in order for each student to fulfill the requirements in each subject. The camp counselors are mostly college students, with interest and at least some experience in education, physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech therapy. The camp allows them to prepare for careers in these areas.
Staller has seen some counselors come back to the New City camp program as special education teachers. Some of the camp counselors have been with Jawonio for most of their lives, but not as staff members. Many began in Jawonio’s Early Intervention Program, and at the age of 18, were able to apply for a counselor position.
Counselor Tiffany Mason, is one example. She knew if she became a leader for the Jawonio kids, she could prove to them just how capable they could be, even with their disabilities.
“I grew up in the program," Mason explains. "I started camp here when I was six. I wanted to be able to give back to the kids.”