Inclusive Summer Camp Programs for All Ages

March 21st, 2024

The text, "Summer Camp," written with chalk on chalkboard next to chalk sticks of different bright colors

Our list of camps and activities all over Illinois can help you find the right fit for your child

Summer and the long break from school are right around the corner!

The good news is there are a variety of programs throughout the state to help keep your children engaged and learning.

We’ve gathered a list of day and overnight camps as well as virtual programs for youth of all ages with disabilities and special healthcare needs.

Does your child want to make new friends? Develop new skills? Meet others with their same condition or become more independent?

Our 2024 summer camp list can help you find the right fit.

There are several ways to search the camp opportunities on our website:

These camps are accessible and inclusive for a variety of ages and needs, including many of our program’s eligible medical conditions.

Please note that program deadlines vary, and some camps fill up quickly.

Know of a good summer camp opportunity to add to our list?

Send us the details at We’ll continue to update our list of camps and activities, so please check back often!

2022 Transition Conference Prepares Youth With Disabilities for Adulthood

November 28th, 2022

brothers Jaysen, 18, and Justen, 14, McMenamin smile as they sit in their power wheelchairs while attending the 2022 Illinois Statewide Transition Conference

The annual Stepping Stones of Transition Conference gives families and professionals valuable resources and information to support youth on the path to adulthood.

Sixteen-year-old Ayla Etheridge says she’s faced many surgeries and physical limitations throughout her life.

She was born with a spinal lipoma (a mass of fatty tissue) and has experienced nerve damage and scoliosis. At one point, she needed a tracheostomy to breathe.

Ayla now uses a wheelchair and credits her physical challenges with “making my brain better.”

Ayla Etheridge, 16

“I always bounce back and don’t want to just sit around and get depressed,” she said.

Ayla is also a careful planner, extremely tech-savvy and loves gaming, character design and writing.   

As she attended the Illinois Statewide Transition Conference, Ayla thought more about how these interests and skills will shape her future and career goals.

“I’m very independent and would like to do more things myself,” Ayla said. “This conference has kind of helped me visualize and think about my next steps.”

The 17th annual transition conference, titled “Stepping Stones of Transition,” took place in East Peoria on Nov. 3-4. The conference helps both families and professionals learn about the resources, information and opportunities available for youth with disabilities as they prepare for adulthood.

Ayla and her mom, Rachel, were among nearly 450 people who attended in person.

The University of Illinois Chicago’s Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC) helps sponsor the conference and serves on its steering committee.

DSCC also covered the related costs for 34 of our participant family members to attend, including the Etheridges and the Barraza family.

“I am so thankful to DSCC for the fact they covered the cost to be here. That made a big difference in us being able to attend,” Anita Barraza said.

“Education empowers me”

Anita’s son, Daniel, 17, is a DSCC participant. His older sister Diana, 22, left DSCC last summer.

All three attended together along with dad, Jose, and Anita’s mother-in-law, who helped care for Daniel and Diana when they needed a break from conference activities.  

“It was great to have my husband be able to be part of the process and that both he and I could listen and take in the information,” Anita said. “(The conference) is also a nice way to spend time together as a family. It’s almost like a mini-vacation for us.”

The Barraza family

Anita is an occupational therapist who works with school children, so she understands both sides of the need for information and resources when supporting young adults with disabilities.

“As a parent, we can feel so overwhelmed. Even if help is right there, that reach can be hard to do,” Anita said.

That’s why opportunities to learn about a variety of resources and network with other families and professionals are so important.

“These types of resources educate me on how to best provide for my children’s needs and for their future,” Anita said

Both Daniel and Diana have significant medical needs and are unable to safely live on their own.

Anita says it’s hard to think about, but she realizes must start planning for who can care for Daniel and Diana when she and her husband can no longer do it. Residential placement may be necessary in the future.

The Barrazas also want to learn about possible day programs that can offer one-on-one support to Diana and possible employment options that would work well with her needs.

“Education empowers me to be better prepared to help (Diana and Daniel) have a good quality of life,” Anita said.

“One step ahead”

Anita had told two other DSCC moms about the conference and encouraged them to attend. One of those moms is her friend Yessy Castillo.

Jacob Ortiz and his parents

Though Yessy’s son, Jacob Ortiz, is only 4 years old, she knew it was important to go. 

“I want to be aware of what services are available for Jacob,” Yessy said. “Most importantly, I want to be one step ahead. This conference allows me to get the information on what can benefit Jacob.”

Jacob was born with a cleft palate, an underdeveloped jaw and his tongue pushed back toward his throat. He also had malformations in his hands and feet, and his intestines did not rotate appropriately.

Jacob now has a tracheostomy and depends on a ventilator 24-7 to breathe.

“I appreciate getting the opportunity to meet people and attorneys for advice and support and more legal information on Jacob’s rights,” she said. “If I was not exposed to these events, I wouldn’t know what is available.”

While Yessy speaks limited English, she said the presentations all gave information in a way she could understand.

Melania Tinoco, who also speaks Spanish and learned about the conference from Anita, said connecting with other families at the conference helps her feel more confident.

“It helps seeing we’re all in the same boat and finding out we aren’t alone,” Melania said.

Jeny and Melania Tinoco

Her daughter Jeny is 14 and has been a DSCC participant since birth. Jeny has Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome, a rare genetic and neurological condition that causes developmental delays.

Melania said the conference has helped her plan for what happens to Jeny if she gets sick and/or can’t take care of her daughter. She also appreciated the breakout sessions on helping youth with disabilities respect their body and feel empowered to say “no.”

“The information has been helpful and inspirational,” Melania said.

Putting information into action

The conference consisted of informative breakout sessions in the areas of employment, education, health care and more.

DSCC participant Vera Lynn Lindquist, 17, and her grandmother, Cheryl Lindquist Calcese, said they enjoyed the “Awareness and Transition Services for Students with Disabilities” session. It gave them helpful information on sex education and tips for building good money management skills.

Vera Lindquist and her grandmother, Cheryl Lindquist Calcese

Cheryl is Vera’s legal guardian. She and Vera planned to start a new budget at home after the conference. Vera will get paid for doing chores, such as cleaning her room, helping with the laundry and feeding her two dogs and cat. She will also get a debit card so she can buy things and track her spending.

Vera has autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorder from childhood, tinnitus and hearing loss, and seizures.

She enjoys being an advocate, helping others and encouraging everyone to be kind.

During the breakout session, “Your Story Has Power: Great Expectations and Pieces of the Self-Advocacy Puzzle,” Vera stood up and actively participated during the presentation.

Vera and Cheryl hope to attend the transition conference again next year.

DSCC participant Sabrina Doueihi, 20, was among several self-advocates who shared their perspectives during the “Transition Success Stories” breakout session. She is currently a junior at Bradley College, where she is studying criminology. She hopes to go to law school and become a prosecutor.

Sabrina spoke about the importance of staying true to yourself and what you want to do. She also recommended that youth with disabilities focus on what they can do and who can help them achieve their goals.

“Trade stories and network”

For brothers Jaysen and Justen McMenamin and their parents, the transition conference was a good opportunity to plan for life after high school.

Jaysen McMenamin, 18, is a senior at Woodland High School near Streator, where he is an honor roll student and honorary captain of the school’s football team.

He says he’s interested in digital media and related job opportunities. But, he’s still deciding on the path that’s right for him after graduation.

Brothers Jaysen and Justen McMenamin

Justen, 14, is a freshman at Woodland High and interested in coding. Both brothers have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and are enrolled with DSCC.

Their stepfather, Charles Cusick, said the family wanted to learn more about jobs and career fields that are accessible for the boys and provide more opportunities than what’s available in their small community.

They were also seeking information about camps and other recreation programs for Jaysen now that he has aged out of other programs.

The brothers enjoyed talking with some of the vendors about college resources, job coaching and training programs, and future housing opportunities.

Jaysen would like to live on his own but needs to make sure he has the right supports in place.

The brothers’ mom, Deanna Cox, said she appreciated the breakout session on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Jaysen and Justen’s dad passed away in June, and the session helped her better understand how to help her boys keep the benefits they’re entitled to. 

The family met up with their DSCC Care Coordinator Kristin Lenover during the conference.

“If families can get away from work, there’s so much they will get out of being at the transition conference,” Kristin said. “Attending in person gives you so much access to all kinds of information. There are also opportunities to meet other families, trade stories and network.”

Thirty DSCC team members attended the conference to network, learn from others and strengthen their skillsets and tools to serve participant families.

DSCC also sponsored the conference’s healthcare track for providers who play a role in the transition from the pediatric to adult healthcare system and those who build youth’s capacity and healthcare skills to prepare for adulthood.

DSCC Transition Specialist Darcy Contri has helped plan the conference since it began 17 years ago. This year’s event was her last before she retires.

“I’m so grateful for and have loved being part of this great work,” Darcy said. “Partnering with talented people from organizations across the state to help others has made a positive difference in so many lives. It is my hope the annual conference will continue to make an impact on improving adult outcomes for youth with disabilities for many more years.”

Visit our Facebook page to see more photos from this year’s conference.  

Transition Conference Prepares Youth With Disabilities for Adulthood

November 16th, 2021

Families and professionals came together in person and virtually at the annual Stepping Stones of Transition Conference in East Peoria to improve outcomes for transition-age youth with special needs

As a single parent raising a child with complex medical needs, Kristen Fisher says it’s easy to feel isolated.

The feeling subsided as she walked through the East Peoria Riverfront Conference Center and saw dozens of other parents and youth with similar needs.

“Seeing everyone at the conference and meeting other parents, it helps confirm that I’m not alone,” Kristen said.

The Illinois Statewide Transition Conference, titled “Stepping Stones of Transition,” returned for its 16th year on Nov. 4-5 in East Peoria after a one-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 660 families and professionals gathered in-person and virtually to gain skills, resources and information to help youth with disabilities prepare for adulthood.

The University of Illinois Chicago’s Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC) is a conference sponsor and served on its steering committee.

DSCC covered the conference-related expenses for 33 of our participant family members across the state.

A “Phenomenal” Experience

DSCC participant Connor Fisher
DSCC participant Connor Fisher

Kristen is the mother of DSCC participant Connor Fisher, who will soon turn 15 years old. He was born prematurely with profound delays and a “smile that will melt your heart,” she said.

This year’s conference was Kristen’s first and she called the experience “phenomenal.”

“It’s hard to grasp that my baby is not a baby. He’s growing up. It’s a scary transition,” she said.

Kristen particularly enjoyed the breakout session “SSI, SSDI, HFS: Understanding the Alphabet Soup of Government Benefits.” She gained a better understanding of available government benefits and how they change over the lifetime.

DSCC mom Amy also learned helpful information during the breakout session on government benefits. She said financial planning is an important part of preparing for her daughter Jaida’s future. Jaida, 17, has been a DSCC participant since just after birth.

Eighteen-year-old DSCC participant RJ Smith attended the conference with his mom, Karla. It was the first time attending for both.

DSCC participant RJ Smith and his mom, Karla
DSCC participant RJ Smith and his mom, Karla

RJ is a senior in high school who plays the baritone in his high school band. He wants to go to culinary school after graduation to become a baker.

He picked all the conference breakout sessions that he and Karla attended.

One of their favorites was about the Fast Track Transition Program through the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Rehabilitation Services. The program provides pre-employment transition services to students with disabilities.

RJ said he is ready for more independence, and Karla said the session helped open her eyes to more options to help achieve that.

“I want to help him become more independent and push him toward that but not just leave him sitting the middle of the road, stranded,” Karla said.  “(The conference) overall has been helpful.”

Preparing for Life After Graduation

DSCC participant Michael Rounds and his mom, Lori
DSCC participant Michael Rounds and his mom, Lori

The conference consisted of informative breakout sessions in the areas of:

  • Employment
  • Education
  • Community
  • Health Care

DSCC participant Michael Rounds, 15, said he enjoyed the breakout session on the Culture of Coordinated Support Model. This model is where people with disabilities, families, supporters, agencies and service providers work together to develop and implement consistent support plans with unified goals and services provided by the provider best suited to do so.

Michael said the session made him think about getting more involved with his Individualized Education Program (IEP) at school. He also liked learning more about what choices are available to him as he plans for his future.

His mother, Lori, said the conference helped her know where to start in preparing Michael for life after high school graduation.

DSCC participant Jacob Menard with his mom, Rosa, and younger brother, Tyler
DSCC participant Jacob Menard with his mom, Rosa, and younger brother, Tyler

Rosa Menard, mom to 17-year-old DSCC participant Jacob, said the amount of information to soak up over the two-day conference was almost overwhelming. She took many notes about potential resources and programs to discuss during Jacob’s next IEP meeting.

Jacob is non-verbal and she wants to set him up for success after high school.

Rosa encouraged other families to start the transition planning process as soon as possible.

“Start asking those questions now,” she said.

Improving Outcomes

DSCC Transition Specialist Darcy Contri presents a conference breakout session
DSCC Transition Specialist Darcy Contri presents a conference breakout session

Nearly 40 DSCC staff members attended the conference in-person or virtually to network, learn from others and strengthen their skillsets and tools to serve our families.

DSCC also sponsored the conference’s health care track for providers who play a role in the transition from the pediatric to adult healthcare system and those who build youth’s capacity and healthcare skills to prepare for adulthood.

DSCC Transition Specialist Darcy Contri said attending providers found helpful tips and information they will apply in their own practices and interactions with youth and families. These changes include:

  • Starting the transition planning process sooner with patients and families
  • Making sure the youth and their family are included in all decision-making and planning
  • Keeping a holistic view of the patient and noting environmental barriers for their family
  • Emphasizing self-determination when working with youth and families on transition goals
  • Discussion of self-management strategies with youth and families

Darcy has been involved with planning the conference for the last 16 years.

“Every year it has been exciting to see the positive impact the transition conference has on improving outcomes for Illinois transition-age youth and their families,” she said.

Visit our Facebook page to see more photos from this year’s conference.