January 18, 2018
Middle school can be tough — even for the most confident and outgoing children. But for Gabi Berthiaume, it was particularly challenging. Born with a neurological condition called spina bifida, she struggled to adjust to the new social and physical demands.
“It’s been a challenge for the last three years,” says Gabi’s mom, Gretchen. “Especially with that fitting-in aspect of life.”
So when the Berthiaume family heard about YMCA Camp Independence — a resident camp for children ages seven and up with spina bifida and other neurological conditions — they were excited about the opportunity for Gabi to increase her self-esteem and independence.
“When I came here six years ago, I was a little scared,” Gabi says. “But when I met the counselors and some of the other kids, I felt better. I just love coming here because everybody’s so nice! It just makes me happy because I feel like I’m loved.”
With the great outdoors as a background, YMCA Camp Independence staff design activities to teach life lessons like persistence, creativity, solving problems, and working together to achieve a common goal. Meanwhile, the cabin experience shows children how to live cooperatively by sharing chores and respecting each other’s differences. Around the campfire, campers are encouraged to tell stories and share their opinions, and be open-minded and supportive as they listen to others.
“We teach kids, young adults, and adults with spina bifida to be as full-functioning and independent as we can,” says Program Director Brandon Krozel.
Gabi quickly gravitated toward the camp’s sports activities. “As soon as she started talking to the counselors, she was into it,” Brandon says. “Every sport that we were playing, she wanted to try. And now she’s doing triathlons and track events outside of camp.”
But Gabi’s physical confidence isn’t the only thing that’s changed after six years at Camp Independence. “This camp has helped me boost my self-esteem,” Gabi says. “I’m not letting anything stop me from what I want to say or do.”
And her parents agree. “I completely believe that this camp is getting her ready for high school,” says her dad, Robert. “I can see her self-esteem growing and growing. She wants to try a lot harder in everything. She’s excited!”
In fact, Program Director Brandon Krozel says Gabi is now one of the most confident girls he’s ever met. “Gabi is a leader. I have no doubt that in a few years, she’s going to be on our staff.”
Click here to meet Gabi in a video story.
To learn more about YMCA Camp Independence, click here.