Thursday was the last day of the first-ever Camp Talk-A-Lot, a day camp for children with autism, and that means it was the culmination of discussions that date back years.
April Wallner, a speech therapist, and Valerie Goldade, assistant director of Dakota Family Solutions, first talked a few years ago about how there were often no services available for children who had special needs during the summer. That was especially true for children with autism.
“There hasn’t been anything geared toward them,” Wallner said.
Three years ago, Dakota Family Solutions, a nonprofit run by Goldade and her husband, started a support group meant for parents and caretakers of children with autism. In 2016, the group sponsored a Christmas party for the families. It was a big success, and that made Goldade realize something.
“I knew we could do a camp,” she said.
So on Tuesday and Thursday, about 20 children, along with some parents and siblings, gathered in a meeting room at the Williston ARC for a few hours. The name comes from the idea that the camp will give the campers and their parents things that they can talk about. To help that carry on once they’re home, volunteers were putting together photo albums that campers could take home with them.
Tables were placed around the room with toys, games and art supplies.
There were small tents set up to give campers a place that was quiet, cozy and dark. Snacks and water lined a table in the back of the room.
Volunteers were assigned to each child. Some were parents, some teachers, others were speech therapists and three were college students planning to go into education.
The campers got to choose what they were going to do. Some moved from station to station, while others spent time focused on one thing.
“What is really nice is each of the children have found something they really like,” Wallner said.
It took a lot of effort to start a camp from scratch, Goldade said. She, Wallner and Wendi Schooley worked to create policies on how the camp would run, covering everything from the ability to take photos to liability coverage.
It also took support from the community. Dakota Family Solutions held a fundraiser at the Moose Lodge, and got donations in kind from Signs by Dan, Chatter Pediatric Therapy, 2CP Custom, freelance designer Tamara Wilt and the ARC.
But it was worth it.
“We have had such an amazing response from parents emailing and saying their kids couldn’t wait to come back on Thursday,” Goldade said.
The camp was such a success that people have started suggesting ways to add on to it.
“Everybody’s already talking about ‘Next year, we should…’” Goldade said.