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Ride the Wave Summer Program helps youth with intellectual disabilities maintain consistency during COVID-19

Elaine Allison

Ride The Wave Summer Program participants (contributed)

Lisa MacSween and Hannah Baillie

Nestled in rural Cape Breton is an organization that brings small communities together with a lifelong impact.

L’Arche Cape Breton is part of an international organization that is dedicated to revealing the gifts and contributions of people with intellectual disabilities.

One of the organization’s many initiatives, Ride the Wave Summer Program, offers school-aged children with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to attend a summer day camp.

Josephine MacEachern is the development coordinator with L’Arche Cape Breton.

As a mother of a son with an intellectual disability, MacEachern knows the importance of programs like Ride the Wave.

“My son would make progress throughout the school year – both academically and socially – and he would engage with people and make friends. Then he’d lose some of that progress he made in the summer months because he was isolated,” she explained.

To offer the best possible experience for each camper, Ride the Wave staff tailor their programs to meet each participant’s unique interests and challenges.

“In the past we’ve had people take part in the program that were very shy or scared to take a risk and try art or try soccer,” recalled MacEachern. “With the one-on-one approach and taking note of what they enjoyed we’ve seen so much progress. The program is only eight or nine weeks and even in that short time, it’s amazing the progress people can make when you take the right approach.”

The program offers participants the ability to participate in a variety of activities within their three main areas of focus: physical activity, education and community engagement.

Between trips to the beach, playing sports, learning new games and attending community events, participants in the program learn new skills, explore new interests and meet new people.

Despite the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, MacEachern was determined to offer the Ride the Wave Summer Program again in 2020.

“Our camp was a saving grace and provided families with that little bit of consistency that they had in previous summers,” she explained.

To adapt the program and meet public health guidelines, Ride the Wave reduced their capacity to five participants each day. This allowed staff to ensure physical distancing was maintained and proper handwashing hygiene was followed by all.

“Campers were able to get outside, get active and put into practice some of the skills they had been working so hard at during the academic year before it abruptly ended,” said MacEachern.

Last year’s Ride the Wave Summer Program might have looked a bit different compared to previous camps, but it’s safe to say that the participants still had a great time.

Going into their 27th year of operation, staff at L’Arche Cape Breton and Ride the Wave Summer Program are looking forward to the many adventures next summer will bring.

In 2019, this program received funding through Central Inverness and Strait Richmond Community Health Boards (CHB) Wellness Funds.

Each year, Nova Scotia Health designates funds for each CHB in the province to distribute as Wellness Funds.

This Wellness Fund is for non-profit groups working to improve health in their communities and must address the health priorities identified by CHBs in their current community health plans.