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Making Camp Magic for Youth with Special Needs

Tiffany Graf

This week is the last week of Camp Woodchuck 2021.  Memories were made, lifetime bonds created, and our Rainbows’ youth spent a summer filled with new experiences, fun and magic!

Morgan Weber, Direct Support Professional with her Camper, Judah: We went to the zoo and he loved it! The water and ducks were probably his favorite. We also watched bubbles outside and he thinks they are so magical! Another thing is playing with balloons and all the musical toys!

Samantha Tran, Direct Support Professional with her Camper, Leslie: I have a couple of easier puzzles that we have enjoyed putting together many times. We have enjoyed dancing to fun music as well. My favorite part of the summer was getting to know my camper and helping her with her part of the Talent, Fashion, and Art shows.

Sae Sengvalay, Direct Support Professional with her Camper, Tanner: We love going to Zumba classes at the Y! He also loved playing his guitar for the Talent Show and then painting a beautiful picture that included his guitar and a rainbow for the Art Show.

The person who brings everything together and makes Camp Woodchuck a magical experience is Camp Director Tiffany Graf. Camp Woodchuck runs through June and July and Tiffany begins planning for the next year’s Camp in August. “There are so many moving parts and I have so many ideas,” said Tiffany. “I don’t want to miss an opportunity to create something wonderful for the next year, so I’m always thinking and looking for ways to make things exciting and fun for our youth.”

“My favorite part of my job happens when we are able to give the families help and relief while also teaching the kids the social skills they need to be successful,” said Tiffany Graf, Family Support Services Assistant Coordinator and Camp Director.

“When a child has special needs, the entire family is affected,” said Tiffany. “We worked with a child with high behaviors whose mom couldn’t work because of the child’s behavior at school. The family found Rainbows and started services. We helped the child and the family through our PM latchkey, some weekend respites, Camp, and in-home services. The child has grown so much since he has been at Rainbows; he doesn’t have many behaviors now, he is very sweet and loves to be with the Rainbows’ staff and kids. Now mom has gone back to work, and the child’s parents are able to have date night every once in a while!”

Tiffany worked in a school district with children who had high behaviors for 12 years. One of her students did respite through Rainbows. The child’s foster family needed help and asked if Tiffany would be interested in working with their child in the evenings a couple times a week. “The child had behaviors and we had made such progress with her in school. The family needed the help developing the skills outside of school.”
“As a para-educator in the school district, I needed a summer job,” said Tiffany. “When I did my interview, they told me about Camp. Camp was totally up my alley. Once I started Camp I immediately fell in love with it. When it was over, Kids’ Cove needed a weekend lead so I did that, then when my current position opened up I took this job full-time. I have never looked back.”

A “normal” work day for Tiffany includes numerous things: scheduling the daily activities for when the kids come to center after school, talking with parents about concerns, scheduling or questions, conducting fire & tornado drills monthly, and meeting new families to learn about their kids so Rainbows can give them the best care needed.

Tiffany is responsible for keeping track of all the trainings that are required, including CPI, CPR and Medication administration, for each staff member. She also teaches a Non-Violent Crisis Prevention (CPI) course monthly with Behavior Specialist Ragan Snyder-Smith.

Tiffany is a great support to the Direct Support Professionals providing In-home services,” said Lynlea Southards, Family Support Services Coordinator. “During the pandemic many of the kids struggled with all the changes that occurred. Tiffany was always available to support the kids, the families and the staff. She is always willing to go above and beyond to help the staff with behaviors, visual schedules and anything they need to be successful.”

“Before 2020, my biggest achievement would have been having Camp be a huge success yearly,” said Tiffany. “But now my biggest achievement is the successful transition we accomplished from center-based Camp to In-home Camp when COVID-19 challenged us to continue to provide summer services during a pandemic.”

“We had roughly 2-3 weeks to make this happen,” said Tiffany. “We had so much careful planning to do to ensure a successful summer program would still happen. Our team pulled it off and we were able to start camp as planned on June 1st. We had the entire staff from all Rainbows departments ready to help do whatever we needed. It definitely took a team, but we did it!”

Tiffany and her husband, Rob, have been married 21 years. They have three children; Kayla 22, Keaton 19 and Kyler 17.” I love hanging out with my family,” said Tiffany. “We sit outside by the bonfire or by the pool, play corn hole and washers, and just spend time together.”

The Graf family volunteers A LOT. “My brother-in-law has special needs so we have been doing things in the community for a long time,” said Tiffany.” Rob and Kayla coach my brother-in-law’s basketball team with Special Olympics. My kids work at another special needs camp, and we all volunteer for Rainbows. It’s part of being a Graf.”