Let’s talk about accessibility

Apr 25, 2022

Image Caption: Executive Director Raina Baker, Camp Counselor Sarah Colerick, and Camp Counselor Hilary Holtrop at Camp Beausite Northwest. 

My name is Sarah Colerick, and I use she/they pronouns. I worked at Camp Beausite Northwest, an overnight camp for people with special needs, in 2018 and 2019, and that work was absolutely transformational for me. I became incredibly invested in accessibility because I realized the campers that I was working with really only had access to recreation and fun in a supportive environment during camp – and one week at camp is not enough.  

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Raina Baker (pronouns:  she/hers) who is the Executive Director at Camp Beausite Northwest. Here is a summary of our conversation.

Can you tell me about your work with Camp Beausite and how it relates directly to breaking down barriers?

We are a small nonprofit organization that has been around since 1989, and we’ve been at our location in Chimacum, WA, since 1994. There are not a lot of opportunities for overnight camping and respite for campers with special needs – only four in the state. At Camp Beausite, we work to support a broad demographic of campers with both programming and medical support; it is rare that we have a camper we cannot support. Our campers come to camp for the camp experience, to develop social skills, to develop motor and fine motor skills, and just to have a great time in nature and the outdoors. While our campers are having fun, their families and caregivers are getting an opportunity to have a break.

As the Executive Director, my world is management, operations, and funds development. I also work at the state and local levels to advocate for our campers and their needs. I’m responsible for ensuring that we have the funds to support the programs that we have been doing for the past 30 years. For example, we received some generous anonymous funding that enabled us to build year-round, winterized housing and facilities, expanding the reach of our programs to serve more campers and families.

We are lucky to have a full-time Program Director who has an extensive amount of knowledge and experience in the differently-abled or special needs world. She has been able to create lots of programs, with more under development. My job is to support my staff to make sure that they have the resources to create an inclusive experience. The Executive Director title isn’t involved with our campers and our families as much as the rest of the staff, but I get involved with everyone as much as I can. I love our campers and our families; they are why I do what I do. 

What is missing from community engagement opportunities for folks with disabilities? How might organizations like Puget Soundworks support folks with different needs?

Sometimes the answer is as simple as we want it to be. 

We so often get buried in the weeds when we think about how hard this is, or about resources, or about if we’re going to do it right. The answer is to just do it. Being at the forefront as an available place for people with different abilities to be involved, to attend, to experience, it’s all just about putting it out there and connecting. Connecting to organizations like the Developmental Disabilities Association (DDA) to advertise accessibility will let folks know they have resources. Otherwise, invitations don’t stand. A quiet silence says don’t come

It’s easy to align ourselves with individuals who are marginalized or otherwise not seen or not understood – we just have to be present and make opportunities available. Then you learn, and it gets better every time.

 What does belonging mean to you?

I personally suffer from social anxiety. I think a lot of people do, to varying degrees. I could walk into a house full of people I know and feel nervous. Creating opportunities for myself to find smiles is important. Someone else who is feeling nervous in their moment can create belonging for me in the simplest of actions so it isn’t scary for me. Belonging stems from someone smiling. Touch pointing into familiarity helps me belong. That familiarity is created by passion, and it is created by kindness. It all circles back around to someone simply smiling at me when I’m walking into something that I’m unfamiliar with. A smile can help anyone belong. It goes a long way.

If you could share anything about Camp Beausite Northwest, what would it be?

There are over 110,000 people just in the state of Washington that are differently-abled. Our programs not only provide the camp experience, but also respite for their families. There are 45,000 families eligible for respite services here in Washington, yet only enough funding for just about 6,700. We also have campers who live alone on their social security checks. When they come to camp, you can see the loneliness that they carry. Almost all the funding we raise goes to scholarships, programs, and staffing for our campers. If you are able, a gift to the Camp Beausite Northwest Annual Fund can help provide programs for this consistently underserved population.

It’s important to share the stories of these campers so that we normalize their superhero powers, making more people aware of these incredible humans that deserve to be seen and heard. We’re impacting every single camper that comes through our doors. We’re also impacting their families and their caregivers. We’re helping those campers be the best people they can be. 

Another way to get involved is to work at Camp Beausite Northwest for all or part of the summer – we are hiring! Opportunities exist for folks who are 16+ and can live onsite in Chimacum, WA while they are at camp. When you work at Camp Beausite, you become a part of something bigger than yourself.