Brainy Camps Association: A subsidiary of Children’s National Medical Center

Brainy Camps Association is a non-profit organization that provides residential summer camps, family retreats, leadership training and transitional youth programs for children with severe chronic health conditions. We began our mission in 1994 with a camp for children with epilepsy.  Twenty years later, we have expanded to include camps for youngsters with high functioning autism spectrum disorder, Tourette syndrome, neurofibromatosis, sickle cell anemia, diabetes, heart disease, Down syndrome and hemiplegic/diplegic cerebral palsy.  In 2013, we are added family camps for diabetes and childhood obesity.  In 2015, we added a camp for transitioning youth, 17-24 years olds needing help with independence and finding their direction.  This year, we revamped our childhood obesity program and  plan to hold quarterly retreats for families in the Washington area. Our camps are run in collaboration with many of the healthcare organizations connected to the conditions served. Transportation is available for many of our camps.

Our Camp Program

Brainy Camps Association (BCA) is a consortium of condition specific, medically managed, residential and family camps and retreats for children with chronic health conditions. The conditions we serve include high functioning autism spectrum disorder, Tourette syndrome, congenital heart disease, epilepsy, sickle cell anemia, cerebral palsy, diabetes, Down syndrome, neurofibromatosis and childhood obesity.

Our mission is to create healthy camp communities where partnerships between patients and their medical providers are promoted, independence and self-management are encouraged, education is offered, and social connections are supported. Families are afforded direct observation of their children with immediate intervention by healthcare experts as well as a few days of well-deserved respite. Family camps allow parents and siblings to join with campers in learning to live well with their conditions.

Campers and families participate in a myriad of challenging camp activities, educational seminars and support groups. Through these means, they gain knowledge and form connections with others who have similar experiences, empowering them to face the many obstacles ahead with insight and support.

The long-term goal of camp interventions is to foster resiliency, self-advocacy, positive well-being, and leadership. Research is conducted to determine the overall benefit of condition specific camps and to improve understanding of what helps children adapt to and effectively manage their conditions.

Both professional and student volunteers travel across the US to work with Brainy Camps (BC). In addition, onsite training

Teen Leadership Training Program for Counselors in Training (CITs)

Brainy Camps Teen Leadership Program is designed for 16-17 year olds who are interested in becoming future counselors. Many are past campers who want to “pay it forward” by helping to guide younger children through the challenges that living with a chronic health condition present.   The focus of our Leadership Training Program is to develop interpersonal and communication skills while gaining experience in planning, instructing and executing activities for younger children. CITs receive hands-on experience working with campers while under the direct supervision of experienced counselors. They meet nightly with the directors of camp (a clinical social worker and psychologist) who provide group supervision and leadership training for the participants.

Next Step: Our transitions program for young adults

Ten percent of young adults between the ages of 17 and 24 have difficulty making a smooth transition to adulthood.  They face many barriers in trying to become successful and independent and are at risk for a number of negative outcomes, including unemployment, feelings of failure and an inability to make appropriate future-oriented decisions.

Our Next Step program is designed to assist young adults in overcoming their personal obstacles and make a successful transition to adulthood. Participants attend an overnight session that pinpoints their strengths and weaknesses in problem-solving, communications and interpersonal interactions.  Under the direct supervision of experienced counselors, they are then paired with developmentally disabled individuals and serve as role models and mentors.  Helping them to be productive and successful in this role results in enormous social and personal benefits for the young adult as well as the individuals with whom they are paired.

Camp Staff

Each condition-specific camp is staffed 24 hours a day by medical doctors and nurses who are experts in the field.  Additional professionals include a social worker, physical therapist and a psychologist, as well as other medical personnel who volunteer their time and expertise at the various camps.  The counselors are carefully selected for their genuine interest in children and  receive special training to deal with each unique population.  Many have the identified condition and have gone through our Leadership Training Program to become role models for our campers.

Please contact us for more information.

In the spirit of Brainy Camps,
Sandra Cushner Weinstein, PT, LCSW-C

Susan Mehlman, Ph.D.
Assistant Director