Gerik Babiarz, 14, has dreams of becoming an actor. He feels comfortable talking in front of a camera and started his own YouTube channel, called Beary Blast, where he vlogs about everyday topics and his feelings, mixed with some video game action as well.
The autistic teen has also vlogged about autism and his experience with it.
His mother, Mary Babiarz, encourages him to continue filming videos for his channel because it helps him open up about his feelings, something he rarely did when he was younger.
Mary credits her son’s communication progress to the Melwood Recreation Center, a place he’s been going to for six years and that has become a big part of his life.
“Before I came here I was quiet, didn’t talk much and basically isolated myself. Then after a year of coming here I went home and now my family probably wishes I would be quiet,” Gerik laughed.
Tucked away in the woods of Nanjemoy, the Melwood Recreation Center is a place where inclusion reigns and people of all skill levels are welcomed and celebrated.
A division of the Melwood organization, the 108-acre property is home to a variety of programs and services. The center helps fulfill Melwood’s promise of advocating and empowering individuals of various abilities through immersing them in work and play in the community.
Camp Accomplish is a summer camp program offered at the Melwood Recreation Center and it’s where people of all abilities can enjoy the fun, fitness and friendship of a summer camp experience.
“Out here he’s just part of the group,” Mary said. “There’s nothing different about him. Everybody’s different here.”
Gerik started going to the center when his father was deployed in Iraq and the family was looking for something he could do during the summer.
“There weren’t a lot of options around here that we could take him to,” Mary recalled. “His dad found this place and registered him and he’s never stopped coming.”
Through the equestrian program and various team building activities he’s involved with Gerik’s social skills have improved exponentially.
“He’s benefited very much socially. He is actually a completely different person here than he is at school,” Mary said of her son. “He’s very open, very friendly. He’s getting to where he’s a little bit like that at school now but it was like seeing a different child.”
Camp Accomplish runs June through August and is an inclusive program for youth and teens ages 5-18. The camp includes an overnight program, day program and teen program, a program that introduces work experience to teen campers. Campers can swim, climb a 40-foot rock climbing wall, navigate two different ropes courses, go zip lining, do archery, arts, sports, canoeing, horseback riding, go to bonfires and participate in talent shows.
The camp was established in 1998 and provides individualized support from trained counselors and program staff, with a focus on ensuring that each camper feels valued and successful in a challenging and safe environment.
“They do everything you would do at any other camp, they just make sure everyone’s involved and included,” Mary said.
Gerik’s favorite courses include anything adventurous like rope climbing, zip lining and Nessie, a stand alone challenge course on which participants are hooked into a belay system and traverse floating beams 30 feet in the air.
“There’s no being left out. It’s fun and you make new friends,” Gerik said.
The goal for the camp is to successfully take campers from adolescence to adulthood and transition them into the workplace and community participation. Melwood brings this mission full circle as they partner with over 50 work sites in the National Capital area to provide over 600 people with disabilities work.
“One of the reasons we love the facility is the fact that since it is inclusive, they are helping to raise a generation of individuals to become caregivers, teachers, and just have a general acceptance of disabilities,” Mary said.
“You’re one of the prime examples of how it’s working,” Chantay P. Moye, director of marketing and communications, said to Gerik’s. “I’d love to see you five years from now and see what you’re going to be like.”