Autism Camp Continues Strong in Eighth Summer
Eagles’ soccer camps have for many years been a common summertime activity for young kids, but after its eighth summer, the ministry’s partnership with Autism Speaks is now just as much a fixture of MAI’s outreach in the greater Charlotte area. Lead by former Eagles’ goalkeeper and longtime Urban Eagles leader Ben Page, the goal of the soccer camp is to create an environment where children with autism can feel accepted and free to enjoy playing soccer. In the process, the kids are able to form relationships with their fellow campers and the volunteers alike. Every camper has their own “coach” who sticks with them the whole time, working with them personally. This year, there were thirty-six campers and every one of them had their own buddy.
These relationships often continue on after the week-long camp has concluded, further providing a support system for the children. This opportunity comes free of charge to the parents thanks to the Charlotte branch of Babson Capital, which generously covers the cost of the camp. In addition to the financial contributions, company employees take time off work to volunteer at the camp.
Together, Babson Capital, Autism Speaks and the Eagles have drawn plenty of attention to the good work done through the camp, including a short piece by a local news channel. Though it clocks in at only three minutes, WBTV’s segment on the camp covers plenty of ground, giving viewers a sense of what a blessing the camp is on the kids and their parents. It includes an interview with Benjamin Robinson, a camper returning for his fourth summer, and his mother, Jeanine. Benjamin expressed surprised that he was remembered when he came back and his mother had this to say about the camp, “…he comes and he is accepted for who he is."
Ben Page was also interviewed and the segment gives special attention to how much joy he derives from the camp. This joy is what helps Page to connect with the kids. Many of the children struggle socially and are isolated by autism, but when they come to camp, they are received with joy and are able to participate in that joy. And as always, soccer is the important tool that helps the Eagles break down barriers and bring people together. If the sport is truly a universal language, then it can be used to not only cross geographical lines and cultural barriers but to also make those who are marginalized within our own city feel welcome and accepted. Through the autism camp, this is exactly what Page and all the other volunteers have accomplished.
Click the links below for the WBTV slideshow and video!