Students craft videos for Camp Victory
The camp, in Millville, was built for children with diverse needs – those living with chronic health problems, physical or mental disabilities or the aftermath of catastrophic illness.
In a typical summer, the facility is busy hosting camps for a variety of partner groups. This year, those camps are being held virtually.
“Our goal is to bring a little bit of camp fun to the campers at home,” explained Camp Victory Director Kate Stepnick, a 2007 graduate of the college’s bachelor’s degree in human services and restorative justice, then known as applied human services. “We know they are missing camp, and this gives them a way to participate in camp activities even from far away.”
The physical therapist assistant students, all set to graduate in August, created videos for four of the partner groups: PA Vent Camp (for children on ventilators), Camp Cranium (for children with traumatic brain injuries), Camp JRA (for children with arthritis-related diseases) and Camp Kydnie (for children with kidney disease). They also produced a yoga video that Stepnick provided to all the groups.
Student Emily E. Longenecker, of Hummelstown, helped to develop an activity video that combined an obstacle course with one-minute challenges at spots throughout the course to keep the kids intrigued.
“We planned ideas and activities that kids with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can do,” she said.
Those included a ball toss, hopscotch, balancing a broom or umbrella on one’s hand, keeping a balloon off the ground and a fun cookie challenge.
Another group encouraged a spin on hopscotch that incorporates imagination, while a third created a dance for their camp. Each video provided a demonstration of the activity and, when needed, a simple list of supplies.
“The students worked hard to create a fun and educational video with their group,” Stepnick said. “It was so nice to see different variations of the activity within the videos to ensure that all our campers could participate.”
A traditional part of many summer camps is singing, and participants of PA Vent Camp were gifted with their own camp song, written and performed by student Dylan Casale, of Trout Run. The uplifting video pairs Casale’s music with photos from past PA Vent Camp events.
“I was driving home from my clinical, and the chorus kind of just popped into my head: ‘The PA Vent Camp is where I wanna be,’” Casale explained. “I showed Dr. (Victoria) Hurwitz (physical therapist assistant program director) and my group members, and I was so happy with how it has been received. I just hope some of the kids enjoy it and understand that we wish we could have made it to Camp Victory this summer to spend time with them.”
Casale has been using music to serve others for several years. Before returning to college to become a physical therapist assistant, he lived in Philadelphia, where he worked as a substitute teacher and occasionally walked around the streets in Center City with his guitar to play music for the homeless. He set up his guitar case to collect tips and allowed whoever was around to share the money after he left.
“Sometimes it would make some of them extra money, and other times they would tell me to get lost,” Casale said. “Regardless, if I made just one person smile, I knew was doing something right. … My progress as a musician has now taken a back seat to my current development as a physical therapist assistant.
“In a world that is becoming more distanced and secluded, I still want to be around people and give back where I can,” he continued. “Physical healing is a new and exciting area of life that I am able to give back, and I’m so grateful to have learned about this program and this profession. I will still be gigging on the weekends here and there when I can, but I cannot wait to begin my new career as a physical therapist assistant.”
“The videos are important because it not only gives our campers a new and educational activity, but it also gave the students an opportunity to learn more about children with special needs and how they may have to adapt activities to ensure that everyone can participate to their ability level,” Stepnick said.
Longenecker said that, in addition to helping her learn to teach patients different ways to do things, it reinforced lessons in communication: “teaching patients how to perform a certain exercise in the average everyday person’s vocabulary and not using a professional’s vocabulary, especially while working with children.”
The students undertook the video project as part of a professional seminar class.
“This course helps prepare our PTA students for graduation and employment by discussing topics like licensing, resume writing, interview skills, employment opportunities and professional development,” explained Victoria Hurwitz, director of the college’s physical therapist assistant program. “Part of the course is to complete a social responsibility project.”
In the past, the students have completed that component with Hope Enterprises by providing activities and games for individuals with disabilities during a “day of fun.”
“I knew I had to plan ahead to do an activity that wouldn’t run the risk of being canceled due to COVID safety restrictions,” Hurwitz said. At a conference for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association, Hurwitz met Jamie Huntley, Camp Victory’s executive director, and learned of Camp Victory’s need for virtual programming this summer.
“This experience taught the students about how professional growth occurs both inside and out of the clinic,” Hurwitz said. “Participation in community and service organizations is essential since the field of physical therapy is a caring profession, which is centered around the science and art of healing. In our profession, we must advocate for our patients, and Camp Victory is a prime example of a place that provides campers of all abilities the opportunity to do activities they would not normally be able to do.”
“This meant a lot to me,” Longenecker said. “I have always loved working and helping the community around me, ever since volunteering as a young teenager and now working in a clinical setting with patients. Helping people has always been my passion. These videos/activities only helped with that dream.”
For Stepnick, her role at Camp Victory was a dream for years.
“I tell this story a lot, but I remember sitting in my Intro to Human Services class and our professor asking us to write down our dream job,” Stepnick said. “I wrote down ‘Camp Director at Camp Victory.’ I grew up coming to Camp Victory as a camper with Camp JRA, and I spent over 20 summers here as a camper, counselor and program leader.”
After her graduation from Penn College, she worked for various nonprofits and earned a master’s degree in school counseling.
“I was working in Harrisburg at a behavioral health agency when I saw the job opening at Camp Victory and jumped at the chance,” she said. “I will (have been) here three years this month, and I love every aspect of my job.”
“I think my favorite thing about my job is going out to speaking engagements and talking about the impact that Camp Victory has on children with special needs,” Stepnick added. “It is often the one place that they are free to be themselves: They do not have to worry about what people may say about them; there are plenty of other children with them facing the same challenges; and they feel accepted by everyone around them. Camp Victory truly is a magical place.”
Students who developed activities and videos are:
Camp Cranium: Justin J. Forbes, of Coal Township; John S. Frederick, of Altoona; Alina P. Shmakova, of Pennsylvania Furnace; Keyona Shoff, of Shamokin; and Ethan W. Smead, of Williamsport.
Camp JRA: Shannon Cosentine, of Trout Run; Matt Echevarria, of Carlisle; James A. Hardman, of Trout Run; Nick R. Jandrisavitz, of Cogan Station; Emily E. Longenecker, of Hummelstown; and Daniella N. Pace, of Harding.
Camp Kydnie: Shayla M. Bickel, of Shinglehouse; Kiara M. Carr, of Middleburg; Jessica L. Doutrich, of Lebanon; Kiara J. Orner, of Smethport; and Corbyn R. Schrader, of Canton.
PA Camp Vent song: Dylan Casale, of Trout Run.
Spring Yoga: Alex G. Benner, of Sunbury; Dylan Casale, of Trout Run; Kylie L. Fenstermacher, of Montoursville; Erica L. Gallagher, of Wyoming; and Krystin M. Osborne, of Cogan Station.
Penn College offers an associate degree in physical therapist assistant. Hands-on learning takes place in a well-equipped, on-campus laboratory where students practice skills and interventions. In addition, each student completes three clinical education experiences, available with more than 65 diverse organizations offering opportunities in inpatient, outpatient, long-term and specialty care.
For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free at 800-367-9222.