Every child should grow up with summer camp memories filled with fun, friends, and adventure. At the San Diego Zoo we think these memories should include animals and plants, too! Over the last 35 years I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with thousands of children, making special camp memories. I love them all, but my favorite campers are the “regulars.” They’re the ones I get to see grow up right under my nose as year after year they make Zoo Camp a must. There are hundreds of zoo regulars, and if I was writing a book, I could talk about most of them. Since this is just one blog post, I’m going to focus on four. There four campers stand out for different reasons.
One of our camp regulars is named John Nichols. I remember John so well because he turned his summer camp passion into a life career and became a veterinarian. What a treat when I received an email from him and he talked about the importance that summer camp at the zoo had on his life.
Another camp regular, Amber Lindquist, had tears in her eyes when she told me that her dad was being transferred to Denver. Always one of the first arrivers and most enthusiastic of our campers, Amber shared such a contagious enthusiasm with us for five happy years. I explained that Denver has a very nice zoo and that she could continue her love for animals in a different place. I have no doubt that is just what she did!
Sidney Reynoso is another one of the campers who stand out in my memory. Why? Well, at five years old, to say she was resistant to camp would be putting it mildly. Today, Sidney is a high school junior. She has never missed a camp program, and she’s one of the Zoo’s biggest cheerleaders. She is also talking about animal-focused career possibilities. She hopes that after her first year of college, she will be hired as a Program Assistant.
Mac (short for McCormick) stands out because, without doubt, his smile is the biggest and the brightest of any of our campers! Mac has completed 5 years as a veteran zoo camper and his smile makes him one of the most popular of all our campers. I love to watch the kids take to him like bees to honey as new friendships bloom.
These four kids are helping the Zoo in our mission of ending extinction. They all love animals, friends, and fun and they help spread a passion for nature and wildlife wherever they go. What you can’t tell from their stories is that some of these kids have disabilities. You can’t tell because their abilities shine so brightly. It would be a very sad world if we excluded kids from regular childhood adventures because we were not wise enough to see the amazing abilities every child has.
Kids Included Together has been highly instrumental in the inclusion journey the Zoo has taken over the last 16 years. I will be forever grateful for their guidance and support. While you might think the Zoo has reached the height of inclusion, we don’t! We continue to learn, grow, and change as we find new and better ways to make sure every child can make special summer memories. This is not the end of our journey, and the San Diego Zoo looks forward to many more years full of camp fun, friendships and adventures.
–Written by Sheri Sherman, Education Specialist at the San Diego Zoo. Edited by KIT staff.
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.