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A Tribute by Amanda Lewis

who sat on the Board as a Director involved in the development of the camp and she also sits in a wheelchair experiencing what the camp has to offer its guests.

I became involved with the ALC society a little over three years ago. I was drawn to the project because I myself have special needs and wanted a way to give back all the kindness, support, encouragement and love that was shown to my family and I when we needed it most.

I am fortunate to have supportive and loving family and friends who have done whatever possible so I would never miss out on any crucial childhood experiences. For me a vacation was meaningful and special if I shared it with the ones I love. Through hard times and happy times, we did it as a family. That made all the difference. This is why I was so attracted to the ALC project.

ALC is a place that will cater to the whole family as opposed to just the individual facing significant challenges. That makes it unique. I think that is valuable because families are much stronger and happier when they are kept together. Another feature that really caught my attention was the fact that the camp is open to anyone of any age and their family. I've had many opportunities to experience camps for just special needs people, but I hated having to be separated from my family and able-bodied friends. It certainly gave my parents a break, but it would have been wonderful if they could have been there with me.

Often when families are facing challenges or have a member with special needs it is almost impossible to go on a vacation and just spend time together. It is true that the camps and facilities that provide respite are valuable. But I think it is much more valuable to individuals with special needs and their entire support network, to have a place to get away together. Irreplaceable memories are made and new bonds are formed which will help them get through anything. I felt that before and still do, every time I get to share an experience with the ones I love.

I spent the first year and a half of my involvement with ALC as a speaker raising funds and working for the camp, yet I hadn't visited the site myself. As other Board members told me about it a vivid and beautiful picture was created in my mind. The first time I went up to the camp to see it for myself I was not disappointed. I felt like I was coming home. It was early October and all the leaves were a million different shades of colour and the birds were still singing. None of the sounds of the conventional world could be heard. It was magical. There is no other way to describe the feeling.

I have explored nature many times thanks to the ingenuity of my parents, but I don't think I ever before really understood the sense of peace and healing that can come just from standing still and letting the beauty of nature unfold around me. Sharing that experience with several other friends with disabilities, and also with my family was very special.

In the past whenever I attempted to follow a walking trail there were often obstacles and I would have to turn back. But not that day. Thanks to the CRIS society I was carried in a trail rider, I went for an unencumbered obstacle free hike. For the first time in my life I could go wherever I wanted and the obstacles didn't matter. It was a little scary at first because I had never ridden in a trail rider before but as I got used to the sensation, I was taken in by the panorama of beauty that surrounded me. My fears subsided and an overwhelming sense of exploration, freedom, joy and exhilaration swept over me. I got to see everything that I wanted, including little surprises along the way. I got to go down to the lake where I sat and enjoyed its beauty. I got to go over hills, logs and fences. I experienced the strange bumpy sensation of going over uneven ground. In other words I got to experience pure and simple freedom.

The fact that my family, friends and the people who I worked with on this remarkable project were able to enjoy all these experiences with me made it all the more special and unforgettable. It is one thing to spend months and months trying to describe to people what kind of freedom, rejuvenation and joy a place like ALC can bring to special needs individuals and their families, but it is an entirely different thing to experience it for yourself. Because of my special needs I assumed I understood all this already. But I was wrong. I didn't really understand what this place of freedom was like until I experienced it for myself.

I can tell you firsthand that ALC is about so much more than accessible buildings. It is about the rejuvenation, refreshment, joy, and memory-making experiences that lay in wait for many people like me. ALC will make a difference in their lives and will change their perspective forever. That is the true magic of a place like this. It will allow each individual and each family to experience and gain what they need, to find their own version of freedom.

I urge you to become involved and experience this magic for yourself. Don't just take my word for it!

Amanda Lewis, former Director of ALCS