Special needs children gain lasting memories about their natural world

Special needs children gain lasting memories about their natural world

Intern Sadie Ackerman (holding one of the coloring books designed by Nicole Silvia), Peter Petokas, and Danielle Sabines stand in the camp’s Nature Center.

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Children with special medical or cognitive needs learned more about their natural world from two college interns who staffed Camp Victory’s Nature Center and taught campers about environmental awareness this summer.

Danielle Sabins, a senior biology major at Lycoming College from Montgomery, Pa., and Sadie Ackerman, a junior environmental geoscience major at Bloomsburg University from Millville, Pa., used a variety of techniques to teach the children about wildlife and wildflowers, life cycles, and how to keep forests and other natural habitats healthy.

Camp Victory provides a summer camp experience for children who may require special medical care or services not available at a typical summer camp. Each week, children with similar issues like chronic health problems, disabilities or who have suffered a catastrophic loss, are able to meet children like themselves and experience all the fun and comradery of a typical camp.

“We usually started each lesson in the Nature Center and then took the children into the nearby forest to explore,” said Sabins. “The center has plenty of wheel-chair accessible paths so almost all of our campers can see, feel and touch our world’s wonderful natural resources. However, we adapted every lesson to the particular needs and interests of each week’s campers.”

Peter Petokas, Ph.D., research associate with the Clean Water Institute of Lycoming College, serves as the mentor for the environmental education intern program and supervised the interns. He has been involved with the camp’s environmental education program for the past five years and was directly involved in the planning of the camp’s Nature Center, which was built a few years ago.

He also worked with Nicole Silvia, a 2015 Lycoming graduate with dual majors in art and biology, to create a beautifully designed coloring book to help campers remember what they learned.

“The children are always excited about sharing their experiences with parents, siblings, and friends but sometimes forget all of the wonderful thing they’ve done,” said Petokas. “The book helps them remember what our nature center interns taught them about the environment.”

The production of the coloring book was funded by the Geisinger Foundation.

For more information on Camp Victory, near Millville, Pa., visit www.campvictory.org.

Nicole Silvia

Nicole Silvia at the handicapped-accessible treehouse at Camp Victory. Photograph by P. Petokas.