Helen Lamb receives Creative Living Award
She has not paid any of her employees for more than half a century. Yet, on Tuesday of last week, dozens of them gathered at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury not to demand money, but rather to honor the woman - Helen Lamb.
Energized by clanging bells and lively guitar music, 200 friends, counselors, former campers, and family members sang "Please Don't Take My Sunshine Away" as Ms. Lamb and Camp Jabberwocky were announced as this year's recipients of the 2009 Creative Living Award.
Given annually since 1983 by the Permanent Endowment for Martha's Vineyard, the award was presented by Deborah Hale, the organization's chairman. The Creative Living Award honors individuals in the Island community who work to improve the quality of life on Martha's Vineyard.
Many former Jabberwocky camp counselors spoke during the ceremony about Ms. Lamb and her inspiring work as the founder of Camp Jabberwocky.
Mary Beth Grady, a former counselor who co-owns Chilmark Chocolates, said, "Helen encouraged us to think in terms of possibilities. Her camp encouraged us to believe - and that feeling lasts a lifetime."
Deanne Bonnar, a former head counselor and trustee who is now a professor of social work at Boston University, told her "Helen story." She said, "I've known Helen for more than 50 years. She is an extraordinary human being. I met her when I first came to work at the camp as a counselor at age 15. She became a mentor to me and taught me a great deal about how to live a meaningful life. Her anti-materialistic view of the world inspired me."
Ms. Lamb first opened Camp Jabberwocky - originally called Martha's Vineyard Cerebral Palsy Camp - on Commonwealth Avenue in Oak Bluffs in 1953 in a cottage she rented from her brother-in-law for $145 for a month. Her dream was to create a place for children and adults with disabilities to go for a vacation.
In 1950, a few years after the end of the Second World War, Ms. Lamb, a widow, immigrated to the United States from England with her three children. She lived in New Bedford and worked as a speech therapist at the Fall River Cerebral Palsy Training Center. The idea for creating a place where children could vacation and enjoy outdoor activities like swimming and picnicking came to her after learning that most of the children at the training center had to stay in their small rooms all summer.
"Before I left for the States," said Ms. Lamb, "I had spent time right after the war in London digging up bodies from the rubble left by all the bombing. I closed their eyes and went on to the next until I found someone alive. One day we found a little girl, alive, who for the longest time would not talk to anyone. She just sat in a big chair. Then one day, probably feeling a bit frustrated, I lifted her up and said, 'For Christ's sake, Mary, say something.' Then she said, 'Put me down!' Her journey back into the world of language had begun."
Perhaps no person at the celebration spoke more eloquently about Ms. Lamb than Jimmy Moore, who spent 50 years as a Jabberwocky camper. When he was five, he began his sessions with Ms. Lamb. As his speech therapist at her clinic in Fall River, she worked with Jimmy because he could not talk.
After friends helped move his wheelchair to the front of the room, Jimmy took a deep breath then spoke in a strong, clear voice. "The doctors," he said, "wanted my parents to put me away. But my parents said 'no, he's staying with us.' That's when I met Helen. She worked with me for five years to teach me to talk. She never gave up on me."
Later during the gathering, after the speakers concluded their remarks, people relaxed in small groups for drinks and hors d' oeuvres and continued to share their Helen stories. Said Steve Soriano, a Jabberwocky camper from 1981 to 1987, "I really enjoyed my summers in the camp. Helen didn't look at us in terms of our disabilities. She looked us in terms of our abilities and what we were able to do. I will hold her deeply in my heart forever."
Vicky Stockton, another volunteer who served the camp as an interpreter, musician, and cook, has her own philosophy about why the camp has been so successful for so long. "I think the beauty of the whole camp," she said, "is that for two weeks of the year our campers are the insiders, not the outsiders they may feel like the rest of the year."
As evening fell outside the Grange Hall, the ceremony moved toward its close with those in attendance singing Woody Guthrie's famous folk song, "This Land is Your Land." And as the last cars crackled through the gravel exiting the parking lot onto State Road, it seemed the music of Jabberwocky would follow everyone home.
Dan Sharkovitz, the advisor to The High School View, teaches English at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.