A social hall in Conejo Valley Masonic Lodge No. 807 is filled with tables. Various accessories, such as laptops and coloring books, lie on them.
Suddenly, the room is filled with shouts and laughter.
Camp counselors enter, followed by a crowd of eager campers. The excitement and joy of each camper radiates throughout the corridor.
This is the first time the Thousand Oaks lodge is home to Reid’s Gift, a burgeoning local nonprofit that offers services to teens and young adults with developmental disabilities.
With no physical space to conduct its summer camp, Reid’s turns to organizations in the community. This year the nonprofit approached the Masons, who regularly rent out their space on Crescent Way to worthy causes, lodge secretary Stephen Wurtzel said.
“They came and told us who they were and what they are and do,” Wurtzel said, “and asked whether we would be willing to rent out for the summer. We said, ‘Absolutely, yes.’”
The camp began June 18 and ends Aug. 10.
Tina Ebsen has served as program director of the Reid’s Gift organization since it was formed five years ago. The nonprofit is named for Reid Thompson, a child with autism who died in his sleep in 2007 at the age of 11.
Reid’s autopsy results were normal, only indicating a slightly heavier than normal brain, which is typical for people with autism, according to the nonprofit’s website. The cause of his death is unknown.
Ebsen was Reid’s caregiver.
The organizers of Reid’s Gift summer program say the goal of the camp is twofold: to allow the young participants to create bonds with each other while enjoying traditional activities and games, and to encourage personal progress through project-based learning.
Project-based learning has campers completing real-world tasks, like starting a small business. Challenged with transforming the lodge’s social hall into a coffee shop, for example, campers drew up a menu and learned to make coffee. They hosted family and members of the community to bring the creation to life.
Camper Sarah Green, 21, said she enjoyed the chance to whip up fresh lemonade.
“I juiced the lemons,” she said. “I like doing swimming, too.”
Ebsen said the camp is simply an extension of the many programs the organization offers during the regular year.
“Basically, it’s a way for them to engage with their peers in meaningful activity over the summer,” she said. “At the end of each week they’re engaged in a meaningful project.”
While the schedule can differ from day to day, campers usually arrive at 10 a.m. Counselors start the day by reviewing the schedule for the week. Each week has an end goal.
“We really focus on what we call being interdependent. So everybody has their way that they’re independent, but we also need them to be able to access resources in their community and others, too,” Ebsen said.
After the morning’s activities, campers sit down and have lunch together, an opportunity to work on their social skills and make new friends. Following the meal, they get back to activities—including swimming at the Thousand Oaks High School pool and practicing yoga before departing around 3 p.m.
This summer’s program, which attracted 17 campers, would not have been possible without the support from the Masonic community in Thousand Oaks, Ebsen said.
“They really enjoy it here. They love coming in and seeing their friends,” she said of the campers. “I feel they have made a lot of connections here, it has overall been an incredible experience for everyone, and that is what we are trying to do.”
For more information on the Reid’s Gift summer program, email info@reidsgift or go to reidsgift.org.