Joyful Friends After-School & Summer Camp Programs

Joyful Friends After-School & Summer Camp Programs

From Kenneth Gregson

Creating After-School and Summer Camp programs for children with moderate to severe developmental and intellectual differences. They need quality behavioral support other programs just do not provide.

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Recent Updates

Update #3

about 1 month ago

So excited! Received 4 boxes of supplies and equipment for our classrooms and sensory room today! It's starting to come together.

We need a lot more help between now and our opening for After-School on August 10th. Please share this with your friends, letting them know you support this great cause.

More Info

1.  Identifying a Community Need

Too many children with moderate to severe developmental delays and /or intellectual disabilities who also exhibit moderate to severe maladaptive behaviors do not have access to the behavioral help they need when school is not in session.  There are only two summer camps in Manatee County that serve this challenging population.  As a result, many parents, guardians, and caregivers are forced to stay home during the summer as they cannot afford the specialized care these children need to thrive.

1.1 Potential Client Population

Manatee County has approximately 50,200 students.  According to the CDC about 1 in 6 children have developmental disabilities which means over 8,500 children in the county may need extra help when school in not in session during the summer.  About two-thirds are considered to have moderate to severe delays and two-thirds of those exhibit behaviors such as aggression towards others or they are self-injurious, engage in property destruction, have toileting challenges or elopement (running away).  Approximately 3,700 children in Manatee county need specialized behavioral help that typical summer camps are not equipped to provide, we estimate over 1,000 of them are elementary-school age.

1.2 Current Service Availability

It takes specialized behavioral training and often one-on-one staffing to provide a safe, fun, educational and nurturing after-school and summer camp experience for this challenging population.  It is cost-prohibitive for most camp programs and most families.  Currently there are only two summer camps in the county that are staffed and trained to serve these 1000+ Elementary school-aged children who may exhibit these behaviors. 

·       Foundation for Dreams & Dream Oaks Camp

·       Southwest Florida Easter Seals Summer Camp

Combined, both existing summer camps enroll less than 100 children per summer. 

1.3 Impact on Children and Parents

Most of the remaining children with these behaviors either attend a summer camp that is ill-equipped to provide for their needs or they stay home for the summer.  Either option often results in regression from their school Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals, an increase in maladaptive or distressed behaviors, and parents who cannot work or put their jobs in jeopardy because the ill-equipped summer camp cannot handle those types of behaviors and call the parent out of work several times during the summer.

The impact on parents or caregivers are illustrated in these following two studies concerning families living with children on the autism spectrum.

2.      Solution to the Community Need

Joyful Friends After-School & Summer Camp are new programs being initiated by a new non-profit in Florida, Central Christian Community Services, Inc. 

2.1 Our Purpose

The purpose of this non-profit is to provide childcare outside the home for school-age children with developmental and intellectual disabilities who have special needs including those who exhibit challenging behaviors.

2.2 Our Vision

We envision a world that embraces the neurodiversity of humanity where every child with developmental and intellectual differences will be able to access superior quality summer camps and after-school care programs tailored to their needs.

2.3 Our Mission

Joyful Friends After-School & Summer Camp will provide a loving, nurturing, educational and fun summer camp experience that is safe and inclusive.  

·       We utilize structured activities and curriculum to foster physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and academic development.   

·       We are committed to maintaining or advancing these campers’ educational and behavioral goals during the summer months. 

·       We enable parents and caregivers to maintain gainful employment when their children are out of school.

2.4 Core Values

·       Inclusiveness

·       Community

·       Collaboration


3.      Overview of Programs

3.1 Dense Activity Schedule

One of the key items to support a diagnosis of developmental delays like autism or an intellectual disability like Down syndrome is an adherence to routines.  There are significant number of studies that demonstrate the overall effectiveness of activity schedules for individuals diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Joyful Friends After-School & Summer Camp will include dense activity schedules throughout the entirety of the experience.  The schedules will include times, activities, expectations, and visual and auditory cues.

3.2 Planned Transition Strategies

A shift from one task to another may be easy for a typical developing child, however, it is intensely challenging for children with a developmental or intellectual disability because they struggle with making the cognitive adaptation to moving on to another task.  As a result, it often results in frustration, stress, and anxiety.  

In order to alleviate some of the challenges surrounding transitions for children with ASD and other differences, it is imperative that transition strategies are used.  Transition strategies are techniques used to support individuals with ASD during changes in or disruptions to activities, settings, or routines.  The techniques can be used before a transition occurs, during a transition, and/or after a transition, and can be presented verbally, auditorily, or visually.

3.3 Educational Components

There is significant support for continuing educational curriculum during summer months.  Even typically developing students often experience regression in learned skills throughout the summer.  For student with developmental and intellectual differences, the regression in skills is often monumental in comparison to that of typically developing students.  Including educational components in Joyful Friends Summer Camp will have the following impact:

Prevent Summer Regression

Regression is the forgetting of acquired skills, most of the time after school breaks, such as summer vacation.  The gap in educational instruction often severely affects a child's ability to maintain skills.  Including structured educational components within a camp suitable for kids with special needs is the most effective way to prevent a child from experiencing summer regression.

Continuation of IEP Goals

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program.  IEPs contain specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound goals that outline what they should achieve during the school year. Developing methods to accomplish these goals are essential to a child's overall educational development.  Though teachers work hard to achieve goals outlined at the onset of the school year, it sometimes proves difficult to accomplish all goals before the end of the school year.  We will include educational curriculum that support the continuation of IEP goals from the prior school year.  In doing this, we hope to accelerate continuous learning throughout the summer and facilitate a faster acquisition of skills.

Facilitate Back-to-School Transitions

Parents and caregivers of students with ASD often struggle to continue to provide structure and routine throughout the summer months.  Summer breaks from school mean being away from the traditional classroom setting for roughly 3 months.  Research shows that following this extensive break, students often struggle to transition back to school after unstructured summer breaks. Incorporating an educational component into Joyful Friends Summer Camp will provide cohesiveness in the school year and summer and allow for a smoother transition back into the traditional school setting.

3.4 Physical Fitness Components

Many kids with these developmental and intellectual differences do not initiate participation in the sports or recreational activities that their peer groups do.  Therefore, they miss the social and health benefits that exercise provides.  Our summer camp will provide structured physical fitness curriculum and activities that focus on gross motor development and promoting a healthier lifestyle.

3.5 Social Skills Curriculum

Social skill deficits are one of the most important diagnostic characteristics for individuals diagnosed with ASD. For kids with developmental delays, summer breaks from school mean fewer opportunities to practice these social skills.   Fewer opportunities to practice social skills can result in an inability to establish and maintain healthy friendships.

Social skills curriculums provide explicit teaching and activities to systematically target socially appropriate behaviors.  We have carefully chosen an evidence-based curriculum and programs that include components to meet each camper's unique needs.  

3.6 Field Trips

Campers will participate in several field trips with parent/caregiver approval in advance.  Transportation will be provided to and from the field trip location.  When returning from field trips, the daily schedule will commence corresponding with the current time. 

4.     Staffing and Training

4.1 Staff

Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA)

Joyful Friends After-School & Summer Camp programs are being designed and developed by a master’s level BCBA. 

We will always have at least one supervising BCBA on staff and on-site.  We may also have a Board-Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst on staff and on-site as well.

Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT) / Direct Support Professionals (DSP)

Our direct support professionals will either already be Registered Behavior Technicians, or we will provide the approved training needed to attain their RBT status.

Interns and Volunteer Staff

We will also have additional support staff to include college interns taking ABA coursework and volunteers.

Camp Director

Overall leadership and responsibility for all camp activities and administration.

On-Call Nurse

We will always have a nurse available on-call whenever the camp operates.

4.2 Client / Staff Ratio

The final client staff ratio will depend on the final selection of campers and the requirements of their IEP and Behavior Plan.  For example:

·       2 campers that require 1:1 support will be supported with 2 RBTs or trained DSPs

·       2 campers that require 1:2 support will be supported by 1 RBT or trained DSP

·       6 campers that require 1:3 support will be supported by 2 RBTs or trained DSPs

The client/staff ratio relates to RBTs and DSPs.  Interns and volunteers are additional needed support staff to coordinate and help implement activities and support the RBTs and DSPs who will always remain with the campers.

4.3 Training

The following training will be provided to the necessary staff prior to the start of camp:

·       40-hour Registered Behavior Technician course

·       Quality Behavioral Solutions (QBS) Safety Care Training

·       First-Aid and CPR Training

·       Lifeguard Training

·       STAR Educational Curriculum Training

·       PATHS Social Skills Curriculum Training

·       SPARK Physical Fitness Curriculum Training


5.      Facility and Property

Joyful Friends After-School & Summer Camp is located on a 10-acre wooded property in the middle of Bradenton.  It is a park-like setting with a small pond and walking trails, a fenced-in playground and plenty of space for outdoor camp activities. 

The camp facility is in a 6000 sq. ft. building with three classrooms, two large meeting/activity rooms and two sensory rooms.

6.     Expected Benefits and Impact of Program

Summer camps provide meaningful activities that fosters creativity, independence, confidence, leadership, and friendships.  Summer camps that combine learning environments with these meaningful activities allow campers to develop necessary life-long skills.  Some of the particular benefits and impact for children with intellectual and developmental delays who attend summer camps are:

6.1 Benefits for Camper

Improvement in Behavior

There are noticeable changes in the behavior of children who attend summer camp.  Some of these improvements include increased independence, behavior changes, and social improvements.

Like-Minded Friends

Attending camp can provide campers with like-minded friends who understand one another. Camp can offer them the opportunity to find people who have their similar differences and can relate to their day-to-day challenges.

New Skills

Camps designed for children with developmental and intellectual disability can provide a means of learning new skills that otherwise may not have been acquired. Providing opportunities to learn and master these skills can give them a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Lasting Friendships

Attending a summer camp can help attendees gain life-long friendship and develop much needed social skills. Having friends that you see year-after-year can have a significant impact on self-esteem and overall well-being.

Getting Unplugged

Electronics have become a large part of the lives of many children with and without developmental delays. Camp provides an opportunity to fill space with more than just electronics.

Gaining Independence

Structured camps provide a plethora of opportunities to increase independence.

Problem Solving

Camp provides excellent opportunities to develop problem solving and organizational skills.

6.2 Impact on Families

Summer presents unique challenges for families of individuals with differences. Research shows that therapeutic summer camps result in significant positive benefits for those families.


From seeing child participate in camp, parents report a sense of enjoyment and excitement as they see their child participate in certain activities at camp. According to a study, when the parents were unable to see their child directly participate at camp, they discussed how they enjoyed listening to their child recall their experiences.

Improved Perception of Child

As the parent/caregiver observed or received reports of activities engaged in at camp, some of their perceptions of their children’s abilities began to change.

Decreased Stress

Study shows that summer camp provides a remedy to decrease stress in families of children with exceptional needs. [3] The reduction in stress can be attributed to a number of factors. One of the most notable factors is the alleviation of the need to find a safe and stimulating environment for their child to attend.

Increased Time for Other Activities

Summer camp helps parents/caregivers accomplish other tasks while camp provides and environment that meets the child’s specific needs. It frees them up to be able to do things they typically struggle to do like grocery shopping, running errands, and joining activities with their friends and family.

Improvement in Sleep Patterns

Some of the parents noted that they were unable to have consistent bedtime and wake-up schedule at home during the summer months because they had to devote constant care to the child with special needs. Parents reported significant improvements in sleep patterns when their children participated in summer camps.

Increased Hope

Summer camp broadened families view and perspective about what their child could do. Parents have reported that interacting with other parents at camp helped them cope with their emotions regarding their child, which also attributed to decreased stress. One mother reported that her feelings regarding her child were validated when she was able to share some of her emotions with another mother at camp.

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Help Kenneth raise $125,000 by making a donation.

Kenneth Gregson posted a new update:
about 1 month ago

Update #3

So excited! Received 4 boxes of supplies and equipment for our classrooms and sensory room today! It's starting to come together.

We need a lot more help between now and our opening for After-School on August 10th. Please share this with your friends, letting them know you support this great cause.

Join the Conversation

Sign in with your Facebook account or

Kenneth Gregson posted a new update:
about 1 month ago

Update #2

We need a big push over the next six weeks. We need to start our After-School program on August 10th and need to hire and train the staff before that. Together we can reach the $50,000 we need to begin that process. Please share this campaign with your friends.

These children with developmental and intellectual differences are counting on us and so are their families. Every and any amount helps.

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Kenneth Gregson posted a new update:
5 months ago

Update #1

Thank you so much to our first early donors who have gotten us off to a great start. Please support this worthy cause. These children with severe behavior challenges often have no where else to go when school lets out, and their parents are at the end of their rope. Your donation enables the campers to continue to receive the help they need, and their parents to work during the summer.

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