Auckland airport was filled last week with mixed emotions when  14 young adults and their parents prepared to board their flights back to all corners of the country after completing the annual NZDSA Youth Camp.

The participants and their supporters were still buzzing from their amazing experiences during the three-day camp in Long Bay, north of Auckland, but also shed a tear as they had to say farewell to all the new friends they had made.

The annual weekend is one of the highlights on the NZDSA calendar where young adults from all regions in the country are nominated by their local groups to be invited to this fully funded camp of fun, action, laughter and great food.

The change in the mood of the group and the interactions between the young people and their carers between arrival and departure was incredible to witness.

When the group first gathered on the Friday, most participants were understandably shy and nervous of what they could expect.

Some had never been on a plane, and some had never spent night away from their parents, as the young people each got their own room at the beautiful Vaughn Park, looking out over Long Bay beach.

The parents stayed nearby in another house on the same property, but for some participants even that small separation was a big step in growing their independence.

After the first introductions and getting familiar with their new surroundings the young adults were driven to Xtreme Entertainment where they proved to be extremely competitive in their ten-pin bowling and barely had time to eat the pizza on offer.

The Saturdays are traditionally action-packed at the Sir Peter Black Maritime Education and Recreation Centre (MERC) where the wonderful instructors gently guided the young people through the first steps of rock climbing and abseiling.

Some of the young people were clearly not impressed by what was lying ahead but all showed incredibly courage as every participant conquered their fear of heights and abseiled the intimidating wall.

The rock climbing proved to be a bit more challenging but again all participants gave it a real go and many of them managed to reach the top of the wall.

All that activity had created a real hunger, but the Rapid Response Team were there to the rescue and feed the crew a much appreciated lunch of burgers and chips.

In the afternoon, the MERC instructors brought out the archery gear and the participants showed a real knack of hitting the target. For many of them it was the first time they had handled a bow, and they all enjoyed learning this exciting new skill.

After a well-deserved rest, the youngsters dressed up for a beautiful dinner prepared by the Vaughn Park staff,  but any extra kilos were quickly worked off when the dining room was turned into a dance floor. The crew particularly enjoyed songs from Mamma Mia and Grease, but all showed their unique dancing styles with a variety of music.

A slightly jaded group arrived at breakfast on Sunday, before heading into an art session to reflect on the weekend and about the new things they had learned.

Several of the parents also commented about their own personal development and how impressed they were with their children trying new things and showing more independence than they had expected.

Most caretakers vowed to use the new lessons to let their children become more independent.

The weekend created some wonderful new friendships and many exchanged details to stay in touch.

The NZDSA Youth Camp is a unique opportunity to learn, for parents and their offspring, and build new networks.

If you are interested in attending at the next camp in late 2021, contact your local NZDSA representative and put your name forward.

By Kaye Young

The Vaughan Park Retreat Centre is a wonderful, peaceful place set above Long Bay Beach  in Auckland, nestled into rolling hills with views across bush and towards the beach. The accommodation and food was generous and excellent and it was wonderful to meet other parents who also have a very high needs son/daughter.

My son James is 23 years old has Down syndrome, Autism, Coeliac disease and is non-verbal so it is not often one meets another family whose child has the same diagnosis. For me it was lovely to be in a place where my son was not the most developmentally delayed. I was pampered and my son coped pretty well with all the changes starting with the plane flight, travel in a shuttle van, new peers, food and accommodation. Having head phones on so he could listen to his music helped a lot. When James was asked to do the rock climbing, abseiling and archery he would not participate despite the best efforts of Coen and Glen but I had not allowed James to wear his headphones. The next day he wore his headphones and did wonderful art work for 2 hours. I was amazed and now with the benefit of hindsight how many other things would he do if he could relax listening to his music while doing the activity! So both James and I learnt new things and I loved the company of other Mums/Dads who have children with similar challenges.

Thank you to Zandra and the NZDSA for organising such a great event and if it could be held again for parents with very high needs children with Down syndrome that would be fabulous!

By Coen Lammers

Eight young people from all corners of New Zealand last month enjoyed a weekend of adventure, camaraderie, arts, dancing and of course plenty of finger-licking food at the NZDSA Youth Development Camp. The young adults ranging from 18 to 32 years old were invited by the NZDSA to attend the annual at the Vaughan Park in Long Bay, north of Auckland.

NZDSA Youth Camp

The venue provided a stunning beach-side backdrop and was situated right next to the Marine Education and Recreation Centre (MREC) where the guests took part in a host of adrenaline-filled activities and where they were asked to get out of their comfort zones.

For many of the participants, the airplane ride into Auckland already provided a highlight in itself. Aside from Melissa Hoffman and Emily Leech, who only had to drive over the Harbour Bridge, the other guests flew in from far and wide. Katie Beamish from Dunedin and Invercargill’s Jacqie Glew represented the deep south, with James Young from Christchurch making up the South Island crew. Brendon Porthouse flew in from Otaki on the Kapati Coast, along with his old friend Harry Elsworth, while David Gunn represented Palmerston North.

Some of the regional neighbours knew others on the camp, but most of the participants met for the first time, and they soon bonded quickly to support each other on the different activities.

After an opening night of introductions and a fun activity experimenting with robot toys, the team really went to work on Saturday morning when the trainers at the Marine Education Centre were waiting to put the young visitors through their paces on the climbing wall. The youngsters initially explored the small climbing wall to find out about how to use their arms and legs, but many of them could not wait to get onto their climbing harnesses and onto the ropes. Girl power came to the fore at the camp as the young ladies from the South were leading the way, tackling the first climb like spiders. Inspired by Jacqui and Katie, the other more reluctant members of the team soon followed, and once they got their first taste, many of them could not wait to go up a second and third time.

The next challenge of the adventure was to abseil down the same 10-metre wall and again the women were leading the way. Some of them even stopped mid-decent to sort out their hair and pose for a photo. Standing on top of the climbing wall can be an intimidating place for anyone, even without a fear of heights, but the expert instructors at MERC managed to assist all of their young participants to slide safely down wall, even if some of them were using some unorthodox techniques.

The team and the adults assisting them during the weekend had worked up a sizeable hunger when the fantastic Rapid Relief Team arrived to prepare a delicious lunch of burgers and hot chips. The temptation was almost too big, and some of the participants initially struggled a bit with a full tummy on the archery course, which was the afternoon activity. The bows were large and the arrows were flying at rapid speed towards the target as big cheers erupted for the arrows that landed close to the bullseye.

While the young people were busy brushing up on their climbing and Robin Hood skills, the mothers were whisked away for a coffee and some shopping, and treated to a pampering session with a beauty therapist and masseuse, which some of the parents reluctantly, but gladly accepted.

Once everyone had recovered from the day’s activities, the Vaughan Park chefs put up a wonderful early Christmas dinner, which was a perfect opportunity to make new friends and share the stories of the day. As with previous camps, the participants were quickly able to get rid of their dinner calories during the traditional disco. The extended play list that represented all the Abba and Bee Gees classics, as well as the more contemporary Katy Perry and Taylor Swift repertoires, gave everyone an excuse to strut their stuff.

After all that excitement, it was not a surprise that the team were a bit more subdued on the final morning, but the arts session provided the perfect activity and produced some terrific artwork.

After the final lunch, the participants, parents and support crew said their final goodbyes, but vowed they to stay in touch to share their memories of all the adventures and new skills they experienced at Vaughan Park.

Young adults who are interested in attending the 2019 Youth Development Camp can contact Zandra Vaccarino on [email protected]