KAMPN for a Kause
Camp Cogger, a manifestation of Kids with Autism Making
Progress in Nature (KAMPN), spans 25 acres of forest and trails in Deep Gap.
It will open June 29 as a unique and cost-free camp for families of children with autism spectrum disorder.
Camp Cogger is located at 1255 Wildcat Ridge, Deep Gap, on Jim and Sue Taylor’s land, adjacent to land of their son and daughter-in-law, Adam and Tricia Taylor.
The camp invites four families of children with autism to spend a Saturday from 10 a.m. until evening on a day of their choice this summer — June 29, July 6, July 13 or July 20.
Families will take a guided hike to a freshwater creek, make pottery with Robert “The Potbellied Potter” Erardi and his wife, pot a plant with Watauga County 4H, explore the dozens of trails and listen to local musicians play around a campfire.
Families should bring their own lunches, but in the evening, pizza will be provided by Amalfi’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria.
Two of the four families who participate in KAMPN’s Camp Cogger on Saturday will have the opportunity to stay overnight in their own six-person tent as guests of the Taylors.
Trained university students, studying in education, development and health fields, will act as staff members during the weekend, offering professional advice to parents, caring for the children so parents can venture off during the day and staying overnight in nearby tents to offer their services. Reciprocally, the students will benefit from the hands-on learning experience.
Unlike other camps for children with autism in North Carolina, which can range from $15 per day to $1,650 per week, Camp Cogger is free of charge.
In children, the most common autism-related issues are “problems with socialization, communication and unique behavior,” said Sharon Richter, assistant professor of special education and reading education at Appalachian State University.
The experience in nature at Camp Cogger will benefit these children by providing a calming environment and soothing sensory experiences.
Most uniquely, Camp Cogger allows children to be “free to be me,” KAMPN founder Jim Taylor said. They can freely engage with the Earth, other campers, their siblings, other families and the staff — occasions that are infrequent for many children with autism.
“This gives them a place to sort of connect with themselves,” said Melissa Shore, a KAMPN board member and mother of Tyler and Nevin, two children with autism.
“It is really important, because in an everyday environment, they are bombarded with stimuli constantly. In nature, in the woods, it’s silence. It’s gone. That allows them to relax and be able to open up and focus and explore.”
The gentle silence of the camp relieves one of the most evident pressures on autistic children — the inability to filter input, such as a conversation, from external sources, such as visual stimulation, sounds and smells.
Testimonials of nature’s positive impact on children with autism are commonly heard, but scarcely documented and studied. Taylor, Richter and the student staff plan to change that.
One of KAMPN’s objectives is to provide a model campsite that can be replicated in other areas of the state and country. In order to do so, they will keep records and reviews of each camp weekend.
Next summer, a class for education students at ASU could be built around Camp Cogger and require students to volunteer at the camp for class credit.
Taylor encountered the idea for KAMPN while watching his autistic grandson, Charlie, become calm and focused when they went walking together.
On May 1, 2011, Taylor incorporated KAMPN, and it received a nonprofit charitable status as a 501(c)(3) corporation.
When Taylor first imagined Camp Cogger, he envisioned rustic three-room cabins on the property, costing $12,000 apiece. He held several fundraisers before he realized that the cost of his vision was too demanding, due to the economy.
“But I think it’s all part of the plan. A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps,” he said, quoting Proverbs 16:9.
So, he purchased tents from Costco, cut the woodchips for the paths himself, found the tent platforms at a landfill and had the lumber donated.
Many university students have volunteered for a day by trail-clearing and hauling trees at Camp Cogger.
As a family camp, Camp Cogger resembles group-living homes, one of Taylor’s early special education endeavors.
In the 1960s, he was a teacher and later principal at Johnny Appleseed special education school in Fort Wayne, Ind. In the 1970s, he received his doctorate in special education from the University of Florida.
Since then, Taylor has been involved in multiple special education endeavors, from working as director of habilitation services for Alabama’s Right to Treatment Act to working at Caswell Developmental Center in Kinston to traveling the country reviewing model programs.
“The goal of (Camp Cogger) is just for them to experience it,” Richter said, as this is the camp’s pilot year.
But the long-term goal within society is to contribute to education about autism, which is the only way Richter and Taylor foresee a change in the way autism is perceived.
Taylor said he would greatly appreciate prayers, volunteers and donations.
For more information, or to sign up for a Saturday at Camp Cogger, visit http://kampn4autism.appstate.edu or call (828) 264-0054.