The spirit of summer : Camp Jabberwocky
As another Vineyard summer begins in earnest, Camp Jabberwocky's campus on Greenwood Avenue in Vineyard Haven is buzzing with activity. The campers and counselors whose jubilant presence delighted viewers at Friday's Fourth of July parade are again a familiar and heartwarming sight throughout the Island. Among locals and vacationers complaining about traffic, high prices, and the weather, members of the Jabberwocky community demonstrate a rare gift for exuberant living.
Celebrating its 55th anniversary this year, the unique camp provides a summer vacation program for children and adults with cerebral palsy and a variety of other disabilities. Recreation, support, close relationships, acceptance and lots of fun are the cornerstones. Whatever their limitations, campers are encouraged and empowered to participate in a vast range of activities. Dedicated and inventive counselors and other volunteers as well as generous community members enable the campers to enjoy a memorable Vineyard summer.
Despite dramatic changes in staff, direction, and policy three years ago, Jabberwocky is thriving, and this anniversary season promises as many good times as ever.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
Jabberwocky began in 1953 when Helen Lamb, affectionately known as "Hell Cat," brought a handful of children with cerebral palsy to the Island for a one-week summer respite. From this unassuming start the two-month camp grew steadily. In time, Ms. Lamb's children Gillian Lamb Butchman and John Lamb became directors of the July and August sessions, respectively, and sat on the board of directors.
John Lamb resigned from the board in 2004, retaining his role as August camp director. After a rift with the board, Ms. Butchman resigned as July session director and board member in 2005. The following year she began a new camp on Nantucket, The Tulgey Wood, where she was joined by some 60 Jabberwocky campers and counselors.
According to a 2006 report by Nis Kildegaard in The Times, the crux of that dispute was a new board policy forbidding the use of alcohol at the camp, citing potential safety and liability problems. While Mr. Lamb agreed with the measure, Ms. Butchman and others said that moderate alcohol use by counselors talking together after a busy day enhanced their work and the program, that safeguards were in place, and that no alcohol-related problems had ever occurred.
Shaken although the close community was by the split, Jabberwocky endured, re-opening in 2006 with reduced numbers of campers and counselors and new co-directors Johanna "JoJo" Romero de Slavy, RN, and Arthur Bradford, both veteran volunteers.
"All of that is behind us now," said board co-chair Lynne Wolf in a telephone interview Sunday. "The wonderful thing about the camp is that everybody volunteers," said Ms. Wolf who shares co-chair duties with Jane Price. "I cannot tell you how inspiring it is for the board to have such capable people willing to give of themselves 24/7. We have a great team with the campers, counselors, and board. We have always depended on the community for its support of the camp," she added, explaining that Jabberwocky relies on donations for its operation.
Ms. Wolf, whose son Jonathan has been a counselor for years, said that campers and counselors maintain contact during the off-season, getting together for such special events as Red Sox, Celtics, and New England Revolution games. Jabberwocky has also encouraged the establishment of camps in Mexico, Los Angeles, and Memphis.
"We're up and running and everything is great," said Ms. Romero de Slavy, who prefers just being called JoJo, in a phone interview Sunday. "We're running at full capacity again and having to turn people away."
With Mr. Bradford on family leave, Kristen "Sully" Sullivan St. Amour is filling in as July co-director. Jack Knower directs August camp. Jabberwocky accommodates 30 to 35 campers at a time with a very high ratio of counselors to campers.
Although some long-time campers went to Nantucket, many remain at Jabberwocky, Ms. Romero de Slavy said. Among them is Manny Furtado, one of the original campers, as well as Paul Remy, Skipper Brooks, Susan Harrington, Faith Carter, Beth Ainsworth, and others. Among long-standing volunteers are JoJo, who is also the camp nurse, and Arthur Bradford, Jeff Carruthers, and art teacher Madeline Way.
Days and nights are packed with activities such as yoga, art, horseback riding, dancing, sports - even maintaining a blog. Campers and counselors pile onto the conspicuous red Jabberwocky bus for outings to beaches, concerts, movies, plays, fairs, farms, the World of Reptiles, services at Grace Episcopal Church, boat trips on Mad Max and The Skipper, and other Island offerings.
The public is invited to the art and pottery show at Featherstone Center for the Arts, beginning July 12, with receptions July 12 and July 26. The annual summer plays, on July 15 and 16 and August 16, are rollicking affairs that illustrate the whole-hearted compassion and joyful spontaneity that are at the heart of Jabberwocky.
"The magic that is Camp Jabberwocky can happen anywhere as long as there are people taking care of each other, doing silly things together, not being held back by what someone else calls a disability," said JoJo. "It's still Camp Jabberwocky. Nothing's really changed. No matter who's here or not, camp lives on. That's what's important. The vision Helen has is still going, and will keep going."
For more information on Camp Jabberwocky visit campjabberwocky.org.