Writer draws inspiration from Camp Jabberwocky campers

Nancy Aronie (center) offers her writing workshop to Jabberwocky campers like Mary Beth Rush (left) and Patricia Hellenes. — Photo courtesy of Amos Binder

This week I am taking Nancy Aronie’s Writing From the Heart workshop and this afternoon she asked me to sit in on her volunteer job as she hosted nine campers and their helpers from Camp Jabberwocky.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, yet I had a feeling it would be positive and that I would learn something.

The writers of Camp Jabberwocky are an incredibly diverse mix of ages, experiences, and disabilities. Nancy, Faith, Paul, Sierra, Mary-Beth, and Patty have cerebral palsy (which I personally believe is the dumbest name ever given to an affliction, for the cerebral part of the writers is what appeared to work most perfectly).

Stephanie is autistic and intensely aware of her surroundings. Kendra is developmentally delayed and Cathy has juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis; both of them have a wisdom and sense of humor that shines like the lights that guide sailors back to the Island at night.

All of the camp writers have a gift for words; unfortunately very few people get to hear those words. That is a shame. These are the voices of keen perspective, of undeserved rejection, and hugely generous doses of joy. These are the voices of nine powerful minds and hearts.

The exercise Nancy gave them was to write a lie that they were told. Over and over we heard stories of how, from an early age, they were told what they couldn’t do. There were a lucky few who had been encouraged and validated. So many of these incredible minds were thought to be mentally retarded for the first few decades of their lives…decades!

Paul, a 60-year-old, was 21 when it was discovered that he was fully cognitive. He now has a degree from The University of Massachusetts in journalism.That is perseverance. And just another lesson from Camp Jabberwocky.

And for me, at 40, I will count this experience as one of the greatest gifts of my very privileged life.

Amos Blinder lives in Washington State and has been coming to the Vineyard his whole life. For more information on Camp Jabberwocky, call 508-693-2339 or go to campjabberwocky.org.

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