Craig Vick's Scattered Thoughts

Adventures in Virtual Community

Au Revoir Camp Joan Mier


Camp Joan Mier was a camp for children with disabilities. It was located in the hills of Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean. For ten days every Summer, from age ten to eighteen, I was a camper there. It was in many ways the highlight of my year. I did a Google search on the name because I wanted to make sure I spelled it correctly for an upcoming disability parable. I found some sad news. Camp Joan Mier, my Summer camp, has closed. You can read about the closing here.

I confess that, after the sadness of realizing Camp Joan Mier had closed, I was a little annoyed by the remark in the above article attributed to Steven Rosenthal. He described Camp Joan Mier as “a great place for disabled children to learn how to tie their shoes and make their beds”. Why did this bother me? I’m sure he intended no harm. Perhaps something I ate for breakfast has made me more irritable than normal. For the record, however, let me point out a few things. First of all I doubt any child learned how to tie his or her shoes at Camp Joan Mier. We all knew how to tie our shoes before going to camp. The minimum age for a camper, as I remember, was ten. If the implication is that children who live with disabilities need a special place to learn how to tie their shoes, that’s at best misleading. There may have been some children with disabilities which prevented from or made it very difficult for them to able to tie their own shoes. Even so these challenges would have been solved long before coming to camp. The same goes for making our beds. Bed making was more strictly enforced at camp than at home (at least for me), but this was a matter of discipline, not learning. We all knew how to make our beds before going to camp.

Rosenthal’s remark, whether intended or not, points to a difference in perspective, the difference between viewing a disability from the outside as opposed to the inside. From the outside a disability is seen as a monster. It robs one of normality. The focus falls on giving back as much of normal as is possible. People are even seen as disabilities rather than as people. From the outside it looks like I can’t tie my shoes. Shoe tying is part of normal life. If I can only learn how to tie my shoes, I’ll be that much closer to normal. From the inside, I’m already normal (or at least as normal as I’m ever going to be). I don’t spend much time thinking about shoe laces. Tying my shoes may be difficult. It may be a big nuisance. It’s not a part of who I am.

I don’t want to end on a complaint. Though I’m a few years late, I’d like to give Camp Joan Mier a more proper eulogy by expressing my thanks. Thank you for being a huge part of my growing up years. Thank you for making so many friendships possible. Thank you to all of the staff and counselors who gave far more than was required. Many of you kept in touch even after the Summer ended. Your love and patience were tremendous gifts. Thank you for introducing me to rock n roll, days at the beach, sand crabs, star fish, rattle snakes, camp life, arts and crafts, swimming contests and a host of beautiful people. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to sing in a band. Thank you for providing some magnificent adventures and many memories. Thank you for being there as I chartered the very difficult waters of being a teen. Thank you for a cabin overlooking the ocean. Thanks to all who gave their support through donations or taxes. Many lives were enriched by your mission. We’re all a bit poorer now that you’re gone.


7 thoughts on “Au Revoir Camp Joan Mier

  1. I would be sad, too, if my favorite camp had closed. I read the closing letter and that particular sentence struck me as insensitive. What a shame. But I’m glad you and so many others have those wonderful memories. How fun!

  2. Thanks Julie Anne,
    I am thankful for the experiences and memories. From the financial info in the article it looks like they had little choice but to close it. I only wish they would have done so with more appreciation for the camps years of life and service. Hopefully I’ve retired her more fittingly in my little corner of the web.

    I thought of your recent experience as a camp counselor as I wrote this. You never really know the significance of the impact of your love.

  3. Craig – I’m now “friends” with all of my campers on FB and when I see their posts, I wonder if they realize the impact they had on my life. I’ll bet your camp counselors could say the same thing about you and your camper friends. This camp thing is pretty special for both camper and counselor – such a powerful experience for all! I’m hooked.

  4. I’ve never thought about that Julie Anne. I know many of my counselors were amazing people, but I never considered the impact on them. Thanks for the thought.

  5. Teri Bennett
    November 2014 I just found this page and was sad to learn Camp Joan Mier had closed. I looked for the camp last summer when I was in the area. I was a camp Counselor back in ’74 and 75 and had two great summers with all the campers and staff. I have such good memories of the activities, horses, the pool, and fondly the food fights between us all. I learned so much and all of us cried every time a camp session would end and we would have to say goodbye. The talented campers were amazing and taught us so much, I remember all and have the photographs of our groups together. Since my time there, I have volunteered as a Camp Counselor many times with different groups and although they have been very fun, not as heart felt as my time at Camp Joan Mier, thank you so much.

  6. Thanks Teri,
    I was a camper for several years. My last year there was probably 1970, so I just missed you. It was an amazing place.

  7. Worked at Camp Joan Mier summer of 1965 ..arts program with Tony Magnante, Directir, Therese Chapasos, RN, Tom Sullivan, Frank Canizales..counselor and many other dedicated staff…wonderful experience..led to a marvelous career working with infants and children with special needs..Lynn ,MSW,LCSW…

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