SHOWING THEIR SUPPORT Pictured are group of volunteers from the Mayo Autism Camp with firefighters Jason Keane and Seán Heneghan, as well as Alan Dillon, who paid the camp a visit. Pic: Alison Laredo
While there have always been plenty of summer camps for children in this county, friends Elisha Sweeney and Colette Heaney could find no camp their children, who are autistic. So what they did do? They set up their own.
The inaugural Mayo Autism Camp took place this month at Manulla, running for six days across two weeks. It has been an unqualified success. So much so that a short camp is being planned for the Halloween holidays, and Elisha and Colette are hopeful that the camp will run again next summer.
The camp took place at Manulla FC, with 70 children ranging in age from four to 12, and their parents, from all over Mayo, attending.
Elisha and Colette were overwhelmed by the support from parents and all who helped ensure the camp’s success. “People were so giving of their time and expertise with us, so that the children could have the best experience,” said Colette. “When we embarked on this project we had no idea that it would have such an impact on so many people.”
Both women praised the support they received from Ray McNamara of Mayo Sports Partnership, Leah in Mayo Volunteers, the Mayo Fire Service, the Order of Malta, the Gardaí, Mayo Early Intervention and the school going age section of Western Care. They were also fulsome in their praise for all at Manulla FC, which they described as a ‘perfect’ venue for the camp.
The women were particularly grateful to all who volunteered their time to assist with the running of the camp.
“We would like to thank so much the amazing volunteers who have given up of their time to help make the camp such a special experience for the children and their families. Without their generosity of spirit, the camp would not have been such a wonderful success,” said Colette.
“We are especially grateful to Linda from Soul Vibration, Mervyn from Music Generation, Noreen from Noga Yoga, Emma Daly, Danceworld, Gerry Butler and The Bike Clinic for sharing of their time and expertise and making the camp such a positive and enjoyable experience for all,” said Elisha.
Amanda McGuinness brought her sons Conor and Jack to the camp and was full of praise for both the camp and its organisers.
“This past summer is one I will always remember, as it’s the first time ever my boys got to do what most kids take for granted. They got to go to a summer camp. A summer camp for children just like them, children who have autism,” Amanda wrote on her blog.
“For the first time ever they were able to take part in all the activities, they got to meet new friends and see old friends. They got to meet so many lovely people who together helped to make the camp a treasured memory they will always remember.
“Mayo Autism Camp helped so many children with Special Needs in Mayo finally feel part of our Community,” added Amanda.
Mayo Autism Camp have been entered in the Coca Cola People’s Choice Awards, which will be decided by a public vote and Elisha Sweeney and Colette Heaney are asking for support. To vote for Mayo Autism Camp, go to www.coca-cola.ie/stories/Thank-You-Fund-Community-Choice-2019. The closing date is September 20.
Mayo Autism Camp will be holding a workshop in conjunction with Manulla FC as part of Mayo Inclusion Week in Manulla FC on October 20.