By Zachary Daum
The Leu Civic Center in Mascoutah is gearing up to host the upcoming “Small Steps Summer Camp,” a specialized camp catering to children with Down syndrome. Linda Kamphorst, the director of the camp, shed light on the activities and purpose of the program.
“Small Steps” is a unique amalgamation of two different progams, Kamphorst explained. “We incorporate gross motor activities and exercises from the Special Olympics Young Athletes programs. We do things as simple as kicking, throwing a ball or frisbee,” she shared.
The camp will also feature exciting attractions such as ball pits and parachute time. However, Kamphorst emphasized that the most crucial aspect of the program is the opportunity for parents to come together. “Parents have appreciated the socialization as many children don’t see other children with Down syndrome. They get to see someone who looks like them or identifies with them,” she added.
While this will be the first time “Small Steps” collaborates with the Leu Civic Center in Mascoutah, Kamphorst highlighted the program’s history. “We’ve had several different variations of the Small Steps program throughout the years,” she said. “I’m the director of family support, and I was hired about 13 months ago. One of the reasons I was hired was because I live in Illinois and we really wanted to make an extra effort to include our Illinois families.”
With approximately 200 members, Small Steps has 25% of their families reside in Illinois. Kamphorst expressed the significance of bringing programs from Missouri to Illinois.
Kamphorst noted that one of the first initiatives she spearheaded was the Small Steps Summer Camp. “We had about 13 families participate, including Illinois families who drove all the way from Highland to Brentwood,” she shared. After conversations with these families, it became clear that there was a desire for a program in Illinois. “They were excited. There was even a family coming from Collinsville, which is close to me,” Kamphorst added.
To meet this demand, Kamphorst initiated a once-a-month Small Steps program in Collinsville during the fall of the previous year. However, she recognized that the Collinsville Blumhouse, although beautiful, was not the ideal location for young children.
“Small Steps” is comprised of two key components, Kamphorst reiterated. “We incorporate gross motor activities and exercises from the Special Olympics Young Athletes programs. We have a director from the Special Olympics program who drops in occasionally and lets us use their equipment. Things as simple as kicking, throwing a ball or frisbee, underhand and overhand tosses,” she explained. Additionally, the program integrates music therapy facilitated by Midwest Music Therapy.
Enthusiastically discussing the move to the Leu Civic Center, Kamphorst praised the collaboration and the benefits it brings. “I cannot say enough amazing things about them, but it’s also attached directly to a water park, and I didn’t want kids to see the water park and think they couldn’t go do that,” she explained. This led her to explore new locations, and she was fortunate to connect with Jenna at the Leu Civic Center.
When Kamphorst brought the location dilemma to the attention of her executive director, she was delighted to learn about the connection with Jenna. “They met my passion with their passion,” Kamphorst said. “I’m more excited now about Small Steps than I’ve ever been. The location is amazing, and the fact that they have so many areas is fantastic. We are so excited.”
Furthermore, Kamphorst revealed potential future plans, stating, “I’m thinking about organizing a mom’s night out for a chance for a mom to go out and do some painting or something. I was talking to Jenna and she suggested we could host the mom’s night out here. The ideas are just flowing now. It’s brought a renewed passion for me.”
“Small Steps Summer Camp” at the Leu Civic Center in Mascoutah promises to be an enriching experience for children with Down syndrome, providing a platform for physical activities, music therapy, and the invaluable opportunity for parents to connect and find support within a like-minded community.
For more information please visit the Small Steps Summer Camp website at dsagsl.org/forms/small-steps-summer/