GOSHEN - Cindy Warner Baker noticed that there were very few summer program opportunities for teens on the autism spectrum and decided she needed to do something about it.
“How do we include middle school and early high school kids?” she asked.
Baker, a Title I teacher at Chamberlain Elementary, then created the BOSS program, or Building Opportunities through Service and Skills, that she started with the help of Asperger’s/Autism Group of Goshen and a grant from IU Health Goshen.
BOSS is a two-week day camp for high-functioning autism spectrum teens that began July 9 and will conclude Friday. The camp integrates learning activities, such as photography and presentation making, with service.
As of Wednesday, the campers and staff had spent five of their eight days together at the Rieth Center to assist city forester Aaron Kingsley clean up the woods between the center and Shanklin Park.
The camp has been held in a house on the east end of the Goshen College campus. Baker praised the college for being very helpful and involved in the camp. Not only did they provide the meeting space, but also offered a clay class led by art professor Merrill Krabill and allowed campers to use iPads to put together their photo presentations.
She added that an advantage to holding the camp on the campus was to “get them feeling at home on a college campus,” in the hopes that they realize college is a viable option for them.
The idea for the camp came from Baker’s own personal experience. She said she and her husband had been very deliberate about teaching life skills and the importance of being part of a community to their now adult son, who is on the spectrum.
“I wanted to create the kind of opportunity for other kids that we did for our son.”
The camp has started modestly, with five campers and a handful of student volunteer staff from Bethany and Goshen high schools. Baker is pleased with the camp’s first year, though, stressing that the experiences and learning they are receiving through BOSS are invaluable.
She hopes to see the program expand next year, noting nearly a dozen families have already expressed interest in the camp for their kids. Baker also said that the BOSS group will meet one Saturday a month after school begins, most likely in September.
For more information about the BOSS program, email Baker at email@example.com.