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2004: Under the Big Top

The First Annual Camp
For people with limited oral communication skills the use of an augmentative communication system can provide access to academic, social and functional communication. An augmentative communication system can range from low tech systems such as single pictures, picture boards or a Picture Exchange system, to medium tech with recorded voice output, to high tech devices with digitized voice out put. Augmentative Communication (AAC) is a process that increases an individual's opportunities to communicate.

The first annual camp Talkabout Augmentative Communication Camp was held last year June 21-25. Eight campers attended ranging in ages from 6 to 17-years of age. Most participants were local to Fairbanks. One camper traveled all the way from Tok. The campers shared one thing in common: the use of AAC. The camp provided a much needed opportunity for AAC users to meet other people their own age who communicate as they do. Campers participated in a variety of activities including scavenger hunts, arts & crafts and a musical/magic show. Guest entertainers performed and the children had the opportunity to ride horses and visit a petting zoo.

Success of the camp relied on many volunteers and benefactors. Camp counselors were enlisted volunteers from the community. Counselors were peers or siblings of the campers. Also participating were trainers who learned to program and develop AAC systems as well as implement them in a functional way. Professionals from all parts of the Fairbanks community participated: school teachers, paraprofessionals, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists as well as a variety of case managers from non profit agencies. Over 30 adults were introduced and trained in the development and use of AAC systems. Two afternoons of professional development were offered. Tina Dowd-Anderson from Dynavox and Kathy Privatsky from SESA and ATLA provided in-depth training.

2005: Fun, Fun, Fun in the Sun!
Camp Talkabout 2005: June 13th – June 17

The second annual Camp Talkabout included some significant growth markers. Thanks to the generosity of the Fairbanks community we were able to move to a new location.

The Tanana Valley Sportsman`s Association donated their lodge for the entire week at a minimal cost. It was the perfect setting: a rough log building on the banks of the Chena River. The Carpenter`s Apprentice program built accessible ramps that allowed the children and adults independent access to all activities. Private individuals donated money for scholarships so all children could participate. Once again the camp relied heavily on the use of volunteer peer/camp counselors. We had a wonderful group of counselors who each day brought a friend or two to help out.

Camp started on Sunday with trainers arriving a day early to learn how to use the devices and program them. This training was attended by professionals, paraprofessionals, caregivers and family members. 25 plus people attended. Many of these folks took the course for professionalal credit offered through the University of Alaska Fairbanks Summer Program. Part of the professional training included two guest speakers. Kathy Privatsky (SESA/ATLA) once again presented, emphasizing literacy and augmentative communication. Tina Dowd-Anderson, the Pacific Northwest representative from Dynavox, also provided an Advanced Training.

Each day was filled with many activities. Laura Corn, Assistant Director to the camp, provided a wide variety of art activities, games and snacks. A highlight of each day was doing the Limbo! The campers also practiced their talent show skit and spent free time with the counselors each day. The camp shenanigans were hilarious!

On Friday the talent show and family BBQ was a huge success. Campers were able to show off their newly gained skills and talents while the parents smiled (and cried) with pride. Community members from every aspect of the Fairbanks Community came to participate as judges or audience members. Politicians, School Administration, Directors of local agencies and business members all enjoyed the Grand Finale of Fun, Fun, Fun in the Sun!!
2006: Camptown Days
Camp Talkabout 2006: June 19th – June 23rd

Our theme this year was Camptown Days. The camp location was again very generously provided at minimal cost by the Tanana Valley Sportsman’s Association. The outdoors feeling of the TVSA fit right in with our western theme. 

As soon as campers walked through the door, they were transported back to the O.K. Corral! There were many activities, such as ‘roping cattle’ in the Rodeo Roundup, ‘panning for gold’ in the sandbox, and having your picture taken while you were in ‘jail’. On field day, everyone participated in the hot potato game, gunny sack race, and barrel races using the ‘horses’ the campers made earlier in the week. 

Throughout the week, campers programmed the camp song into their AAC device and practiced “singing” it in preparation for the final day’s presentation. They also worked on making a float to be used for Friday’s parade. 

Cara Leckwold, MS, CCC-SLP, of Children’s Speech Therapy Services in Anchorage, presented a training session on Tuesday afternoon. Donnell Houx, MA, CCC-SLP and Jaina Hulbert-Billings, MA, CCC-SLP, both of Talkabout Inc., presented an additional training session on Thursday afternoon. These professional development trainings bring to light new ideas and ways to incorporate the AAC device into the everyday lives of the AAC user. 

On Friday, the camper’s families were invited to see the wonderful parade of floats, be serenaded, and enjoy a BBQ of good food at the end! We also were treated to a square dancing lesson and some calling by Jerrie Weatherford of Santa’s Square Dance Club. Jerrie even convinced some of the family members to participate! It truly was a fun time for our campers, as well as their families! 

We were again fortunate to enlist the help of various community members to be judges for our parade of floats. As it is with every year, we couldn’t host this camp without help from our wonderful community, as well as the many generous donations we receive. Donated scholarships also provide some children with the opportunity to attend camp, which they might not otherwise receive. Fairbanks truly does have a Golden Heart!
2007: Pirates of the Caribbean
Camp Talkabout 2007: June 17th – June 22nd

Ahoy Matey! That was a very common phrase used all week, since our theme this year was Pirates of the Caribbean. We had to change locations this year since, unfortunately, the TVSA building burned to the ground. The Goldstream Valley Lions Club graciously allowed us to use the Ken Kunkel Community Center at a nominal fee. It turned out to be a wonderful setting, and has a good “camp” feel. 

The campers and trainers were each encouraged to dress the part, and bring along any pirate attire they might have. There were some great outfits (Peg with the ‘peg’ leg was the overall favorite although the pirate girl with the striped tights ranked right up there too!) The campers were provided with a pirate hat, earring, and head scarf to help put them in the pirate mood also!

Everyone was kept busy by having a daily scavenger hunt for a piece of a treasure map that, by the end of the week, would reveal the location of the buried treasure!! It was so much fun looking for the loot! The campers also made many pirate-themed crafts, including a pirate sword, treasure chest and a pirate photo frame to showcase their Camp Talkabout experience in. 

Donnell Houx, MA, CCC-SLP and Jaina Hulbert-Billings, MA, CCC-SLP, presented again this year. The topic of choice was detailing the integration of AAC into both school and community settings. Kristin Brooks Bradshaw, OTR/L, of ACCA and Talkabout Inc., presented on Thursday on Assistive Technology and Accessibility Issues. Since Kristin is an Occupational Therapist, it was interesting to learn about AAC from an OT’s point of view. 

On the last day of camp, we again invited the families and had a wonderful Family Fun Field Day. The campers got to ‘walk the plank’, enjoyed flying kites, and even had a ‘War of the Pirates’ complete with water balloons! There was also a jumbo outdoor Bowling Set and a ring toss. The BBQ is always enjoyed by all, and this year was no exception.

Every year we appreciate our volunteers and benefactors more and more. When we say that we couldn’t host this camp without them, we really mean it! This is such a wonderful social experience for our AAC campers to participate in! The fact that the activities and the entire camp, for that matter, are geared specifically for AAC users makes this a unique opportunity that isn’t afforded to most AAC users on a frequent basis.
2008: Alaskan Safari
Camp Talkabout 2008: June 16th – 20th

One thing Alaska is known for are our big game animals. So what better way to highlight this wonderful part of our state than to host an Alaskan Safari!

We were able to use the Ken Kunkel Community Center again, and appreciated the Goldstream Valley Lion’s Club renting it to us at a very generous rate again. This is just another way that we can support our community and they in turn help to support us!

Dressing for the part really enhances the overall camp excitement. The large outdoor space at the Community Center allowed us to have a first day scavenger hunt to ‘hunt’ for the safari gear that included a safari hat, binoculars, canteen, etc. They were even given a ‘bear claw’ necklace to show off a successful hunt!

Each camper also chose an animal that they would like to make a presentation on the last day using their DynaVox. An animal pelt kit was loaned to us by the Dept. of Fish and Game which enhanced the level of information available to the camper. It was a wonderful sensory activity that everyone enjoyed! They worked diligently on gathering information about their animal, and then had their trainer program it in to their device. The families enjoyed hearing about and learning more about each camper’s animal. 

Activities for the week also included ‘tracking’ animal prints, bingo with animal sounds, and target practice with bows & foam ‘arrows’. Everyone has had so much fun at the prior Family Fun Field Days that we decided to make it a tradition for the last day of camp.

We couldn’t pass us another chance for a water balloon fight, and again the BBQ was wonderful. This year, everyone was treated to an extra special dish made by one of Talkabout’s employee’s husbands. 

We are always so appreciative of the many donations we receive to help support camp, but this year we had an extremely generous donation by the Fairbanks Moose Lodge #1392. Their generosity all year long enabled us to host 2 presenters from The Bridge School, an Augmentative Communication School in San Francisco. Kristen Gray MA, ECE, ATP and Kelly Rinehart, MA, CCC-SLP, instructed 3 afternoons on various AAC topics. They brought insight and helpful suggestions from their experiences at the school, and were a pleasure to host for the week. Thank you again Fairbanks Moose Lodge #1392 for providing our community with this opportunity!

Camp Talkabout’s 2009 theme will be “Camp Talkabout Olympics”. Stay tuned for more details!
2009: The Olympics   June 15 - 19
Even though it wasn’t the year for the winter or summer Olympics, our campers were able to participate in the Camp Talkabout Olympics here in Fairbanks! Our “stadium” was again at the Ken Kunkel Community Center, and a big thank you goes out to the Goldstream Valley Lions Club for their continued generosity in renting to us for a nominal fee.

The Opening Ceremony was one of the highlights of camp! Each camper carried the “torch” and passed it on to the next waiting camper, ending with our oldest camper lighting the “cauldron” to the tune from Chariots of Fire. It truly was a memorable moment!

The Community Center provided a great location for our different “venues”. The campers participated in several events, including the shotput (using water balloons), javelin throw (using lawn darts), and archery (using foam bow and arrows). Since our camp is for children with special needs, a lot of thought goes into planning activities that are suitable, fun and are in keeping with the theme. Jaina Hulbert-Billings, our camp director, does a wonderful job spearheading these ideas!

The UAF Nanooks Hockey Team also supported camp this year, with 2 of the Nanook players stopping by. Special thanks goes out to Cody Butcher and Dustin Sather, who helped the campers play their first ever “hockey” game! They were great sports, and even posed for pictures. We’d also to like to extend a special thanks to “Grandma Nanook”, Peggy Birkenbuehl, and Assistant Coach Lance West, for helping to arrange this memorable visit! Camp Talkabout Olympics earned a Gold Medal in our books!
2010: Under the Sea   June 7 - 11
We were sad to discover that Ariel wasn’t able to make it to our Under the Sea camp, but we understood – we just live too far inland. We were, however, able to bring a bit of the Sea to Fairbanks, if only for a week.

The Community Center was once again our camp location, but this year it was transformed with fish, seashells and ocean decorations. Fishing nets adorned the walls, with starfish and crabs peeking out from the holes. The outdoors area provided the perfect spot for the dolphin and octopus ring-toss, as well as the beach towel tic-tac-toe mat. Some of the campers snacks were in “clam shells”, but they also ate plenty of goldfish (the cheddar variety!) The most popular snack was a cup of “water” (blue jello) with gummy fish, but the puffer fish cups were a close second!

While camp is for children who use Augmentative Communication Devices (AAC), it also serves as an occasion where parents and caregivers are able to interact with others facing the same set of circumstances. This is why we were so thrilled that an adult AAC user was willing to travel to Fairbanks and share her story with us. Mrs. Mary Grace Wooten, and her husband, Matt, provided us with a unique outlook of what it’s like living and functioning in society using AAC. Thank you again Mary Grace and Matt for reminding us of the true reason why we host camp each year!

We would also like to thank Quota Club International of Fairbanks for their extremely generous donation this year! And we certainly can’t forget the faithful donors who donate so generously each and every year. A big Thank you to Linda Hulbert, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, Rotary Club of Fairbanks, Denali State Bank and Airport Equipment Rentals, just to name a few, for your continued support! We couldn’t do it without you!
2011: Diggin’ Dinosaurs   June 13 - 17
Who knew a Community Center in Goldstream Valley could be transformed back to prehistoric times? Imagine the look on the children’s faces when they were greeted at the door by a 5 foot tall dinosaur, and then walked into a room of T-Rex’s, Stegosaurus’ and flying Pterodactyl’s! One of our campers even “adopted” a Pterodactyl as her own, and wanted to have one of the T-Rex’s “walk” around with her.

The campers were soon ready to become archaeologists, equipped with their archaeologist hats and excavation tools. Everyone had a lot of fun “excavating” dinosaurs in the outdoor sand table. That worked up their appetites, so they were sent inside to “dig” for edible fossils (using chocolate dinosaur fossil pieces and pudding – yum!) and quench their thirst using their T-Rex cup.

Each year, camp is providing AAC users with the opportunity to go to camp – an opportunity that typical children often take for granted. The staff here at Talkabout is thankful that we are able to provide this fun-filled time for the campers, but we can’t do it alone. For instance, this year we would like to thank the Autism Society of Alaska for awarding a scholarship to one of our Autistic campers. The level of support for a community the size of Fairbanks truly is remarkable!
2012: The Talking Garden  June 4 - 8
Our theme this year was chosen with two thoughts in mind: 1) we hadn’t had a garden theme yet, and 2) we are a camp for non-verbal children who use their device to “talk”, hence “The Talking Garden” name.

Once again, we transformed the Ken Kunkel Community Center to match our theme, so it became a beautiful garden – complete with insects and flowers. The back deck was used to “harvest” vegetables and “plant” flowers in the sand boxes. There was even a Bug Toss and Bug Bowling on the outdoor basketball court. The obstacle course with inflatable “ladybug” balls was also a big hit!

The snacks this year were very garden oriented, including “dirt cups with worms”, a “Hungry (cucumber) Caterpillar”, watermelon “ladybugs” complete with a spray-cheese spider web, and let’s not forget the “bug juice” to drink! We all know a garden party is not complete without having a High Tea, so the girls dressed the part with fancy garden hats and the boys sported their Top Hats. Finger sandwiches and “tea” rounded out the festivities. What fun!

The campers also decorated tea cup planters that they planted real flowers in, and took them home as a reminder of their Talking Garden experience. Holm Town Nursery deserves a special thanks for generously donating the flowers, potting soil, and 3 large containers. They even provided the campers with whimsical garden stakes that they personalized. We had simply asked if Holm Town would be interested in donating any items, and they responded with a very generous, “Whatever you need!” Fairbanks is an amazing community indeed!

This year, we had many people interested in becoming a trainer/counselor that works with the campers. We are thankful for everyone who volunteered. We even had one trainer who flew in from Boston! Ms. Melissa Mulvey, CCC-SLP, works at the Cotting School, which is a private special education school in Lexington, MA. One of the areas they specialize in is AAC, and since Camp Talkabout is only one of a handful of AAC camps in the entire United States, she wanted to see what Camp Talkabout is all about. It was a pleasure to work with her, and we all benefited from her expertise! It’s also a bit humbling to know that Camp Talkabout is recognized throughout the national AAC community!


Talkabout, Inc