Nine-Year-Old Olivia Grenci Shows How Special Summer Can Be for Everyone at Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck
For over 60 years, Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck has been a unique haven for special-needs children and their families.
When Olivia attended the camp’s weekend respite session two years ago, it was the first time she spent more than a single day apart from her family. Over the course of the weekend, Olivia developed a special connection to Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck. Her parents watched their daughter flourish and felt assured that the camp not only met Olivia’s needs as an autistic child, but gave her the opportunity to have fun, express herself and socialize with other children.
“We thought it was a good opportunity to spend time with other children, but we were concerned that she would be missing her mom and dad and her two brothers, Nicholas and Jonathan,” Mr. Grenci said. “When we picked her up that Sunday, she said she wanted to stay. That’s a big response from a child like her.”
What Mr. Grenci liked about the respite weekend was that it gave him and his wife the chance to relax and spend time together. “When you have a special-needs child, there is never any downtime,” he said. “You can’t go out to dinner and finding a babysitter can be difficult. A respite program gives the parents a breather for those few days.”
Being an autistic child, Olivia did not express herself very much. But when he talked about signing her up for a weeklong session at the camp, Mr. Grenci said, “She became more expressive. She remembered how much fun the camp was. She really seemed to like it there.”
In June 2011, Olivia spent a week at the camp. Before enrolling his daughter for the weeklong session, Mr. Grenci underwent an interview process with the camp’s director, Bridget Costello, and the nurse, Judy Kamer. He explained to them Olivia’s medical condition and history as well as her likes and dislikes.
It was the first time that Olivia had been away from her family for an extended period of time, so Mr. Grenci’s main concern was the level of supervision she would receive. His concerns were allayed when he learned that the counselors stay in the dorms with the campers and eat meals with them.
Between the ages of 27 and 28 months, Olivia was diagnosed with autism. She was enrolled in a program at Developmental Disabilities Institute in Ronkonkoma and currently attends the Edward J. Bosti Elementary School in Bohemia.
“Olivia has a tendency to walk away sometimes,” he explained. “I was looking for a camp where it has lots of supervision and Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck was a good fit for her. She had never been at a sleepaway camp before, but she did really well at the weekend respite, so we decided to enroll her for the session.”
During her week there, Olivia’s family came to visit. “Based on the feedback I was getting, she liked doing the arts and crafts, participating in the music program and playing games,” Mr. Grenci said, adding that he watched Olivia playing songs and clapping hands. When Jonathan and Nicholas saw their sister, the three children spent their time on the camp’s playground. “They didn’t want to leave,” he said of his sons.
Upon learning more about the camp — its mission, that it has been operated by The Rotary Club of the Moriches for over 60 years and that it relies solely on private donations without any government funding — Sal joined the Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck Patrons in March 2012. Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck Patrons is an organization dedicated to promoting the work of the camp.
“I joined because I wanted to contribute to the betterment of the camp and make the camp’s name more recognizable to the general public,” Mr. Grenci said. “I’ve already been spreading the word to my friends with autistic children, and the folks at DDI. I also let other parents in the school district know how their children can experience this wonderful camp.”
Mr. Grenci had looked into other day camps and community-based programs but none of them seemed to meet Olivia’s needs. “Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck is the only sleepaway camp for children with special needs on Long Island,” he said. “It’s also 20 miles away from my house, so I have peace of mind knowing that Olivia is not that far away in the event she needs something or if we wished to visit her.”
Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck is a resident summer camp serving children and young adults ages 6-21 with both physical and developmental special needs. Its mission is to help children and young adults achieve equality, dignity, and maximum independence through a safe and quality program of camping, recreation, and education in a summertime environment. Throughout the program, campers participate in typical summer camp activities, such as arts and crafts, talent shows, cook-outs, swimming and boating.
This summer, Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck will have nine weekly sessions for special-needs children and young adults, including a one-week session for campers ages 22-29.
For more information, call (631) 878-1070 or visit www.camppaquatuck.com.
Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck was created by the members of the Moriches Rotary Club in 1946. The camp is located on the shores of Kaler's Pond on eastern Long Island. Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck, funded entirely by donations, is a special place where children and young adults ages 6-21 with physical and developmental disabilities can experience first hand the pleasures that an active life has to offer. Children participate in a wide range of activities especially designed for youngsters who are in wheelchairs as well as those who are ambulatory. These activities include swimming, boating, arts and crafts, petting zoo, talent shows, cook-outs, games and a Carnival Day. The Camp Program also provides educational activities in areas such as nature, arts, fire safety and communication skills.