Volunteers needed for Autism Spectrum Disorder Summer Movement Camp

All it took was one volunteer experience for Steffannie Hancharyk (BPhed ’08, BEd ’08, MA ’14) to become hooked.

There was just something so heartwarming about the big smiles and determination on the faces of youths from Brock’s Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Summer Movement Camp that she could not resist.

It was just after completing her master’s degree in 2014 that the Brock alumna, a third-degree black belt in Goju-ryu Karate, was invited to be part of the camp.

She ran an introduction to martial arts station that helped campers explore various movements.

“It was such a rewarding experience that I was inspired to start my own company,” said Hancharyk, who shortly after her camp participation founded Experience Physical Activity. The not-for-profit organization partners with various agencies such as Autism Ontario, RAFT and Community Living to offer martial arts training to individuals experiencing disability.

“When I offered my first camp session, I didn’t know what to expect,” Hancharyk said. “It was an awesome experience. After providing some background to the participants and volunteers, my lesson plan went out the window and I just started teaching basic skills of kicking and blocking, before progressing to combinations.”

The martial arts station became an immediate success and has been integrated into the ASD camp every year since.

“One of the reasons why these lessons are so successful is because the martial arts movements that Steffannie does with the participants are not only transferrable to other gym stations, but they are also useful movements for daily living,” said Elyse Lappano, Brock’s Experiential Learning Co-ordinator, Inclusive and Adaptive Physical Activity.

The movements, which are broken down into simple small parts, are then built onto additional tasks, which reinforce the pattern and can be taught by other camp volunteers.

“The volunteers and participants are learning the same martial arts taught in dojos, but Steffannie teaches them in an adaptive way. This pushes them to constantly practise and leads to increased success,” Lappano said.

Hancharyk has also gone on to hire alumni who have volunteer experience with Brock’s inclusive and adaptive physical activity programs.

“I rely heavily on Brock graduates who have volunteered with the ASD camp and the Special Needs Activity Program,” Hancharyk said. “We really need our alumni and students to step up and help out. These programs provide quality training to volunteers and give participants the confidence to participate in other opportunities.”

The ASD Summer Movement Camp, which runs from Aug. 20 to 24 and Aug. 27 to 31, provides developmentally appropriate movement programming for participants.

The camp needs at least 25 student volunteers to work with youth who require one-on-one support (and in some cases two-to-one support) and can only accept campers based on volunteer commitment.

“These camps fulfill a gap in much-needed services for this group of youth in Niagara,” Lappano said.

Students are currently needed for both camps and may volunteer for one or both weeks. A training session will take place on campus on the Sunday before each camp.

Volunteers should be interested in teaching and working with youths and teens who are neuro-diverse in a movement context. They will learn strategies that are transferable to any teaching profession and may gain course credit for volunteering.

When a volunteer commits to camp, a camper is invited.

“If the volunteer does not show up, we cannot turn that camper away. This results in a serious safety issue due to lack of student support,” Lappano said, while stressing the importance of sticking to that commitment.

Undergraduate and graduate students from across all Faculties and departments and alumni with relevant experience are encouraged to apply.

The camp will take place in Gym 2 of Walker Complex.

There will be trips each afternoon to participate in a variety of recreation activities throughout Niagara, including:

  • Low ropes course
  • Bowling
  • Safari Niagara
  • Go-karts
  • McBain splash pad and pool
  • Kiwanis splash pad and pool

The ASD summer movement camp is one of many ways Brock emphasizes its commitment to experiential education and community engagement.

To register or for more information, e-mail elappano@brocku.ca

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