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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Facebook- Don Himsel at the Nashua Telegraph

    A hallway at The Iber Holmes Gove Middle School in Raymond is backstage for actors at Camp Can Do. Camp Can Do is staging a performance for its campers, all of whom require special techniques or equipment to communicate.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Facebook- Don Himsel at the Nashua Telegraph

    Kristine Croeber, a speech pathologist, holds Patrick McDonald's hand before dress rehearsal Thursday, July 28, 2011. McDonald lives in New Boston.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Facebook- Don Himsel at the Nashua Telegraph

    Dress rehearsal at Camp Can Do in Raymond Thursday, July 28, 2011. The camp is staging a performance for its campers, all of them requiring special techniques or equipment to communicate.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Facebook- Don Himsel at the Nashua Telegraph

    The performers in the camp's play have varying abilities to communicate. They use a variety of devices for assistance, some more sophisticated than others.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Facebook- Don Himsel at the Nashua Telegraph

    The performers in the camp's play have varying abilities to communicate. They use a variety of devices for assistance, some more sophisticated than others.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Facebook- Don Himsel at the Nashua Telegraph

    Chloe Bertrand, 11, of Mont Vernon smiles as she works with Ann Bailey, left, a special educator, Sue Granfors, a para-educator and Amy Stone, a therapist.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Facebook- Don Himsel at the Nashua Telegraph

    Samantha Morgan of Litchfield dances while Bob Gagnon applauds.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Facebook- Don Himsel at the Nashua Telegraph

    Chloe Bertrand, 11, of Mont Vernon
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Facebook- Don Himsel at the Nashua Telegraph

    Performers, including staff member Morgan Johnson of Raymond, dance at the end of rehearsal Thursday, July 28, 2011.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Facebook- Don Himsel at the Nashua Telegraph

    CJ Blundon of Litchfield uses a tablet device to speak his lines while counselor Kim Giroux looks on.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Facebook- Don Himsel at the Nashua Telegraph

    Kevin O'Neil listens to Donna Bergquist during a break in Thursday's rehearsal.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Facebook- Don Himsel at the Nashua Telegraph

    Samantha Morgan of Litchfield dances while Bob Gagnon applauds.
Sunday, August 7, 2011

Camp Can Do helps special kids

RAYMOND – Outfitted with lion masks and monkey tails, the cast of Camp Can Do’s version of the “The Lion King” certainly dressed the part.

But it was the actors’ delivery that brought the audience to its feet.

“Sim-ba, what did you do?” Litchfield resident C.J. Elundon, 15, recited late last month, speaking through a computerized speech device he held before him.

“Your fath-er was trampl-ed,” the device spoke, pausing mechanically between syllables. “You must run a-way and nev-er re-turn.”

For four days last month, Elundon and his 15 fellow campers stole the show at Iber Holmes Gove Middle School, which played host to Camp Can Do, a day camp for students with speaking difficulties.

The students, who are diagnosed with conditions such as mitochondrial disease, Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy, each uses a computerized speech device as their primary means of communication, often in the shape of a laptop computer.

And the camp, which completed its third year last month, helps them use their devices to talk, laugh and make music together through a range of theatrical, artistic and creative activities.

“It’s so great to see them interact with each other like this,” New Boston resident Cathy McDonald said, as she watched her son Patrick play the role of a hyena. “It’s such a gift for him to see that other students talk like he does. … It’s like going to Paris to learn French.”

Raymond School District administrators launched the camp three years ago in an effort to serve local students with speech challenges.

At the time, a student wanted to attend a similar camp in Maine, but the distance was too far, said Mary Ellen Pantazis, director of student services for the district.

“So I thought, ‘Why don’t we do it here?’ ” she said.

The camp has grown each year since, increasing from nine students in 2009 to 15 now.

It has built a full staff of special education teachers and therapists, among other support staff, to work with the students, and it has reached into the community, drawing volunteers to help develop the camp activities.

“This is different from what we do during the school year,” said Bob Gagnon, a drama coach for the Raymond district, who adapted the script and directed the play. “But it’s a terrific experience. Seeing the kids respond to the music and the words, it’s just incredible.”

Throughout the day, the students spend much of their time preparing for the play. Early in the week, they craft their costumes and stage props out of papier-mache and Styrofoam, among other materials. And on July 28, they went through a full rehearsal in advance of the Friday performance.

“It’s been a challenge at times, but she really gets a lot from it,” said Ann Bailey, a paraprofessional working with Chloe Bertrand, 11, of Mont Vernon.

Between takes, the students took part in a range of games and arts and crafts activities, each intended to help students with their communication skills.

After Thursday’s rehearsal, some students played together on the camp’s Nintendo Wii video-game system, while others left handprints and painted on plasterboard.

“OK, Zenith: What color do you want?” Cathy Gleason, a paraprofessional from Exeter, asked her client, Zenith Jaeger, of Durham, as he pointed to the purple button on his speech device.

“See, they’re calling out each other’s names, answering questions, telling us what they want to do,” said Lauren Koczarski, a speech specialist for Boothby Therapy Services, which helps lead the camp.

“For a lot of these kids, they’re the only ones in their schools, in their district (who use speech devices). … This gives them a chance to talk to each other.”

But at times, the students like to put the speech devices away.

As the camp day drew to a close that Thursday, teachers were trying to get Samantha Morgan, 14, of Litchfield, to recite her lines once again when she placed her device down and headed for the door.

“This is dumb. … I’m not going to do this,” Morgan muttered aloud as she started to leave the room.

But instead of stopping her, camp staff members smiled and laughed, celebrating her clear speech.

“Here, we take whatever kind of communication we can get,” Koczarski said. “Our philosophy is whatever works.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.