photo of Penny standing with 3 friends outside at Camp PALS. They are all wearing yellow t-shirts with the PALS logo

Camp PALS and Belonging

Penny sent me a text on her first night of Camp PALS: “With my favorite girl at my favorite place.” 

The next day, the text read, “Best year ever.”

Penny has been going to Camp PALS, a camp for teenagers and young adults with Down syndrome, for six years now (minus the summer of 2020). She goes with her friend Rachel, who also has Down syndrome. Each of them is paired with a typically-developing peer. PALS is a fun week. A week to sing karaoke and go to the beach and the amusement park and have a fashion show and be herself. 

I asked Penny to write about her experience with PALS this year, and I loved her answer to the question, “Why would someone else want to come to PALS?” She wrote:

If you’re someone who likes making new friends and wants to give up a week of your summer for camp join in. You can join by becoming a peer who is partnered with a participant with Down Syndrome… If you are a camp lover and wants to hold on to a friendship or make new friends go ahead and sign up. PALS is a place to make new friends but keep the old. Also the PALS community welcomes you with a party. PALS is a place where you can have fun by making new friends and having random dance parties…Everyone enjoys having a fun time and making friendships that will last to the end of the week maybe even longer. When you are close to the end of the week at least I will cry because it means camp will be over before you know it…

Camp PALS Belonging

Embedded in Penny’s answer is not only the fun that they have and the relationships that they form but the sense of belonging for everyone involved. She’s inviting other teenagers with Down syndrome and also peers without Down syndrome because PALS gives us a glimpse of what we wish more of the world could be like, where the lines of able/disabled are blurred, and everyone is invited to have random dance parties and cry when they feel sad and make new friends and be welcomed with a party. 

More with Amy Julia:

Camp PALS | Penny in Her Own Words
Penny Sharing in Church for DSA Month
S6 E3 | Down Syndrome and Belonging with Heather Avis

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